Voices from the Pandemic: Americans Tell Their Stories of Crisis, Courage and Resilience by Eli Saslow
Published by Doubleday Books
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Welcome! Today is a bit different at The Gilmore Guide. You’re here to read book reviews, not me pontificating on topics you may not care about. By and large I try and stick to that format. But if you’ve been a longtime supporter of this blog or you know me at all, you have some sense of my views on any number of subjects so this review and my thoughts on Voices from the Pandemic won’t come as a surprise. If you’re not in the mood for opinion, probably best to skip this.
I was hesitant to read Voices from the Pandemic because unlike other historical books we are still in the midst of this crisis. Eli Saslow is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who spent 2020 interviewing people around the country about their COVID experiences. In the book he shares over 30 individual stories beginning in March and ending in January 2021. This timeline encompasses the 2020 election, further heightening emotions. As a journalist Saslow presents all sides of the last 18 months. This is not a partisan COVID or election echo chamber.
Voices from the Pandemic is not easy reading. It’s emotionally brutal. Whether it’s a grocer in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans who starts tabs because his customers no longer have jobs or cars and the buses aren’t running and he’s the only grocer for miles. Or an anesthesiologist who normally works in the delivery room, but is now intubating multiple people in a shift, despite having a pre-existing condition himself. It’s the loved ones left behind, an elderly woman who watches herself go from caring to vitriol…the stories just keep coming. There are those who firmly believe COVID is a hoax to discredit their president because no one they know gets it. Or an Arizona man who rallies people on Facebook to go into stores in groups to harass shoppers wearing masks because they go against his Constitutional rights. There’s a North Carolina retail clerk who is spit on and harassed for trying to enforce the state mandate to wear masks. A coroner in a rural county in Georgia who personally knows 30 of the dead, including six preachers. A man who loses his family’s restaurant due to the shutdown and questions its effectiveness.
A doctor who explains
You’re trained to be the calmest person in the room. They teach us: Don’t just rely on medication to calm a person. Use your voice, you eye contact, your whole demeanor.
But wonders how to do that with a body covered in a hazmat suit, a masked mouth, and eyes covered by a shield?
There are the painfully intimate moments of people driving loved ones to the hospital, not being allowed in and never seeing that person alive again. Living in a nursing home and watching as everyone around you—residents and caregivers alike—gets sick, but you can’t leave. There are the feelings of a Dallas man who believed COVID was being overhyped, had six family members to his house, all got it, he ended up in the ER and by October 20 family and friends were infected, with two deaths.
The grief comes in waves but that guilt just sits.
Sadly, we are more divided than before with a minority of people wreaking destruction and pain on the country. I try to understand reasons why a person wouldn’t get vaccinated, but when it comes to wearing a mask I’m out of understanding. By and large this is disgusting politics fed on misinformation, conspiracy theory, and fear mongering. It’s unchristian and incredibly selfish. Not to mention the hypocrisy of those who scream it’s their body and their right to do as they choose, but are just as vocal that a woman has no right to choose what happens to her body. I’ll stop now.
This is shocking reading, as it should be, but it’s not sensationalistic. Saslow treats each viewpoint and story with respect, allowing the release of the full range of human emotion. COVID was a blow to every aspect of this country—economic, social, physical, psychological, religious, and political—and it’s not done with us yet. It is the greatest tragedy in American history and reading the stories in Voices from the Pandemic is important and necessary if we’re going to learn from this dark chapter.
If you’d like more outstanding nonfiction about critical events in American history I’d highly recommend The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Graff
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*I received a free copy of this book from Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review.*