21 Oct 2021, 12:16

First wave of pandemic novels hits Frankfurt fair

 FRANKFURT, Oct 21, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - This week's Frankfurt book fair, the
world's oldest and largest, brings with it the first wave of pandemic novels.
But are readers ready to relive coronavirus and lockdown life through
fictional characters?

  Some of the best-known authors have pandemic tales on the way, with Jodi
Picoult finding inspiration in a tourist stranded abroad, while Margaret
Atwood is teaming up with the likes of Dave Eggers and John Grisham on a
"collaborative novel" about Manhattan residents thrown together by lockdown.

  "We members of the human race have been through a very difficult time here
on planet Earth, and it's not over yet," Atwood told the Frankfurt fair via
video link on Tuesday.

  "Already the writers have begun to bear witness," said the Canadian author,
who is editing the novel "Fourteen Days: An Unauthorised Gathering",
scheduled for release in 2022.

  The newest title by Picoult, whose international bestsellers include "The
Pact" and "My Sister's Keeper", comes out next month, and will be one of the
first pandemic books by a major novelist to hit stores.

  Picoult said she wrote "Wish You Were Here" as a way "to make sense of

  "Artists are meant to find meaning in the things that we don't understand
and a worldwide pandemic qualifies," the US writer told AFP by email.

  Although fewer international publishers and authors are attending the fair
this year because of the pandemic, German author John von Dueffel will be in
Frankfurt on Friday to tell audiences about his Covid-inspired novel.

  In "The Angry and The Guilty", a woman has to go into quarantine just as
the family patriarch is dying.

  - 'Sceptical' -

  Not everyone is convinced readers will embrace these early pandemic-themed

  Renowned German literary critic Denis Scheck warned against "rushing out"
these stories, saying it takes very skilled authors to meaningfully capture
historic events in real time.

  In the past, some of the best writing on major tragedies only emerged years
or even decades after the fact, he said, as has been the case for example
with 9/11 fiction.

  Scheck noted that many readers have instead been turning to classics like
Albert Camus' "The Plague", which has taken on new relevance in the Covid

  "Literature can teach us how to die," Scheck said.

  He praised German author Juli Zeh's recent novel "Ueber Menschen" (About
People) as an example of a coronavirus novel done well.

  It chronicles the tale of a woman who escapes the city for rural life,
leaving behind a partner who becomes ever more controlling in step with the
tightening coronavirus restrictions.

  "She's an author who responds very quickly to current events and does it
well," Scheck said.

  But overall, "I'm sceptical," he added. "I think we'll have to wait another
10 or 20 years."

  - Processing grief -

  For American author Hilma Wolitzer, mother of acclaimed novelist Meg
Wolitzer, waiting was not an option.

  The 91-year-old lost her husband to Covid-19 last year, and was
hospitalised with the virus herself.

  Putting pen to paper "was a way of dealing with grief, when all the usual
rituals of mourning, such as a funeral and the company of family and friends,
were denied to me," she told AFP by email.

  The resulting story is the closing chapter in her newest book "Today a
Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket", a collection of stories featuring
recurring characters, some of which were first published in the 1960s.

  "My story is really about a long marriage -- its many joys and struggles --
that ends with the pandemic, so I hope people will read it for both pleasure
and consolation, as they would any work of fiction," she said.

  Picoult said readers "will need to decide for themselves when they are
ready to read about Covid in fiction."

  "We need to process what we learned about ourselves in the past 18 months,"
she said.

  "If my book can do that for even one person, I'll consider it a success."



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