A couple of days ago I mentioned that I can be strongly affected by whatever book I am currently reading. Right now I am reading a fictional novel based on real historical events – an outbreak of pneumonic plague that occurred in 1910 in the then ‘international’ city of Harbin in northeastern China (or Kharbin as it’s known by the main Russian characters in the book).
It begins in a small way with a couple of suspicious deaths. Slowly but surely the death toll rises as the medical authorities begin to understand the scale of the problem. It’s a very moody piece and the tension builds slowly. What is affecting me most is how the author depicts the slow decay in the normal functioning of society, the ways people deal with each other. Trust is lost, rights are abrogated. Everyone is nervous.
Ordinarily I can step out of my recording booth and know that real life is not like that. We live in a relatively safe and stable society. We can usually trust our leaders to perform within certain accepted bounds. Setting aside shocking events (such as Las Vegas, NYC, hurricanes) the news should, for the most part, be boring and predictable.
That doesn’t seem to be the case any more.
I remember being shaken by the events in the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s. A country I thought of as part of modern Europe, that had appeared to be quite civilised and that had actually hosted an Olympic celebration only a few years previously (Sarajevo 1984), that country astonishingly declined into barbarism. Perhaps I was naive, I was certainly younger. I grew up post WWII in the UK during the 50s and 60s – with the United Nations… and optimism… and the expectation that we understood how to avoid those kinds of decline. I told myself that Yugoslavia was an exception, that could never happen in other parts of Europe let alone the United States.
But between my current reading matter, the experience of the former Yugoslavia, and the strange things happening in the way this country is now being run I’ve become aware of how thin the veil of civilised behaviour really is. How fragile our seemingly stable society may turn out to be.
I’m not saying that the sky is falling, but it’s looking shaky…and I’m nervous.
On the plus side, in the book the plague passes (I haven’t finished yet, but that’s my guess) and life returns to normal. Oh, God, I hope that turns out to be the case in real life.
On the plus, plus, side my next book is a fantasy… so I’ll be more concerned about things that absolutely do not exist in our world, like trolls and (oh, wait…).
Take (extra) care