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Posts Tagged ‘epidemic’

I had been wanting to read this book for a long time and when I finally got around to it, it was a difficult read – not only because my copy was over 600 pages of densely packed font, but also because there is simply so much information and so many names coming at the reader. In tracing the AIDS epidemic throughout the 1980s, there are so many facets of the story, and it often switches between locations so concentration is key. For that reason I found I could only read 10 or so pages at a time before I needed to put the book down for a rest.

But for all that it almost felt like homework, it was an illuminating read, and I have kept my copy to read again in future. Randy Shilts was an American journalist and author, who obviously meticulously researched his subject and in the end delivered not just a timeline of an epidemic that ravaged the gay community, but a searing indictment on the Reagan administration who ignored it all for years despite thousands of people dying and despite being told frequently that this disease was tearing through the country. This book horrified me and made me furious at the lack of regard for the AIDS victims.

Shilts describes how in the early 1980s several young gay men started presenting with an unusual skin cancer, which led to much speculation about its cause. While doctors and scientists could see fairly quickly that there was a huge problem in the offing, and worked tirelessly to try to find the cause, they were up against not just an indifferent federal government, but politics at all levels, the gay community themselves, many of whom resented being advised to lessen their sexual activities, and the abhorrent negligence of such places as many blood banks in America, who refused to start testing their blood even after it was proven that AIDS could be caught through infected transfused blood. The national and local press were also largely uninterested in a disease that only affected gay men.

Amongst the scientific challenges and breakthroughs – including one very interesting narrative about the rivalry between American and French scientists – and the grass roots political attempts to get the Reagan administration interested in this disease, there are tales of key people in the epidemic, many of whom succumbed to AIDS themselves. These for me were some of the most interesting parts, as they focussed on the human aspect of living with a disease, or seeing friend after friend pass away. It portrayed the desperation and hopelessness that people felt, and the anger at their government for ignoring them. I often found myself googling certain people and events to find out more about them – which was another reason it took me such a long time to read this book.

So not an easy read, but an extremely worthwhile one and definitely worth the investment of time and concentration.

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Blindness is quite an astonishing book, unusually written, and not always easy to read, but well worth the time. It feels almost as difficult to review, so bear with me!

An epidemic sweeps an unnamed city, and there is just one symptom – blindness. It starts with just one man sitting in his car, but before long everyone he has been in contact with  – and everyone that they have been in contact with – are blind. In an effort to contain the illness, the authorities put all of the blind people into a disused hospital, but it is all in vain, as soon everybody is blind. Or almost everybody; one woman never loses her sight, for reasons unknown. However, she pretends to be blind so that she can accompany her husband in quarantine at the hospital.

As the amount of internees grows, the sense of community disintegrates. Before long, there are blind thugs controlling the food that the others receive, and demanding payment in the forms of valuables and sex with the women. The blindness truly brings out the worst in some people and the best in others.

The writing style is highly unusual and is part of the reason that I put off reading this book for so long. It’s written almost as a stream of consciousness, with long, long sentences. There are no speech marks, and dialogue between the characters (almost every conversation is between just two people, a fact I only realised after I had finished reading) is written in the same way – often as one long sentence, and the only clue that it’s now a different speaker is the capitalisation at the beginning of their speech. It helps to read the speech parts out loud.

Saramago pulls no punches with his descriptions – the women in the hospital are gang raped, and society disintegrates into crime and squalor, the sheer mess of faeces all over the floors, dogs eating carcasses of dead people – and it’s not a pleasant read. It really does make you think “what if” though. None of the characters’ names are given, and it’s not important. They are everyone, they are telling everyone’s tale.

So as I say, an extraordinary book, and often a difficult one. But if you are into dystopian or speculative fiction, I highly highly recommend it.

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The world is burning, civilisation is collapsing and the human race is in danger of being wiped out…a mysterious disease known as Dragonscale is sweeping the planet – nobody knows how it started, but everyone thinks it will end with the destruction of mankind. The disease starts out as swirling patterns on the sufferer’s skin, and eventually those with it burst into fire and are literally burnt to death. It doesn’t take long before vigilantes roam the streets killing those affected in an attempt to rid the world of the disease.

Harper Grayson finds out that she has Dragonscale at roughly the same time as she discovers that she is pregnant. Her husband Jakob abandons her, and in fear of her life, Harper flees to try and find a place of safety. She is taken under the collective wing of a group of fellow sufferers who have set up their own community known as Camp Wyndham, where they believe they have found a way to, if not cure Dragonscale, at least control it and even use it to their advantage. One of the group is John Rookwood, known as The Fireman. Enigmatic and single-minded, John protects the group and has special skills of his own for using Dragonscale to defend his community. But danger and hysteria lurk within the camp…

I had previously only read one book by Joe Hill – Heart Shaped Box – which I thought was okay but not brilliant. I would probably not have bothered with any more of his novels except that dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels always intrigue me, so I gave this one a try. And wow! am I glad that I did!!

It’s a big brick of a book, at just shy of 750 pages. Sometimes I can get a bit impatient with such long books, but I seem to have got lucky with a couple this year (earlier in the year I read Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ which I also loved), including this one. The writing is engaging and there’s always something to tease you into reading just one more chapter, and oh go on there, just one more…

Some scenes were particularly poignant – crazy as it sounds, one of the scenes that sticks in my head is when Harper gets brief access to the internet after weeks of having none. She goes to Google only to find that it is no longer there.

There’s a lot of characters in the book – some I loved, and some I absolutely detested, as I am sure was the intention of the author. Harper was a feisty heroine – the best sort actually, as she only realised her own strength of character when the chips were down.  found her obsession with the film Mary Poppins a bit odd but I’ll let it go!! The Fireman was exasperating and antagonistic, but fiercely protective of those he cared about, and his bravery knew no bounds.

The story seemed to move quite quickly for me – that is there was always something happening and it didn’t lag at all. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I liked it although I know some reviewers were disappointed.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels. It’s well worth your time reading!

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