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STATES OF PLAGUE by Alice Kaplan


Reading Albert Camus in a Pandemic

by Alice KaplanLaura Marris

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-226-81553-4
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Through the work of Camus, two scholars present “a guide to…moments where the written and the real collide.”

In this mélange of history, literary analysis, and memoir, the authors explore the intersection between a celebrated novel, current realities, scholarship, language, and the tricks that time and circumstance play on all of them. Seasoned literary historian Kaplan and poet and translator Marris, whose new translation of The Plague was published in 2021, team up to cultivate a deeper understanding of Camus’ classic novel. In alternating short essays, they braid together their distinct sensibilities to offer fresh insight and added significance to a canonical mid-20th-century book. They examine the process of seeking out new evidence and making a new English translation of an accepted masterpiece amid a plague reminiscent of the one in Camus’ novel. Enlarging the significance of a work long understood only as an allegory for Nazi occupation, Kaplan and Marris cast it as a more encompassing parable about all kinds of plagues, political as well as viral, and how people, they included, confront them. They also unearth interesting information about the novel’s Algerian setting and, in keeping with Kaplan’s previous studies of 20th-century French fiction and writers, about its conceptualization and realization. Throughout, the authors offer deft textual analyses of all aspects of The Plague, and Marris lets us in on the challenges a translator faces, many of them extending beyond the texts they struggle with to the places where they were written and where their stories take place. Some of the alternating short chapters don’t sit easily with each other, and others possess a touch of idolatry in their approach to Camus. Nevertheless, this is a notable addition to the literature about an indispensable French author.

A reflective set of short essays that will appeal to Camus fans and literary scholars.