When, in 2014, Ebola rapidly spread within several West African nations and eventually spread to the Western world, people began fearing of a disease that had the potential to wipe out the population. Fortunately, such rumors turned out to be exaggerations, as the virus was eventually contained.
But what would have happened if not? What if that first case of Ebola in the United States multiplied exponentially, until cities, states and entire countries were wiped out?
That’s the scenario that Emily St. John Mandel explores in her 2014 novel, Station Eleven. The novel begins with Arthur Leander, a famous actor’s, death the night before the flu pandemic arrived in North America. And it’s Leander who becomes the point of connection for the rest of the characters in the novel: Kirsten Raymonde, who was only eight at the time of the collapse and went on to join the Traveling Symphony — a group of actors and musicians whose motto is “Survival is insufficient” (Star Trek); Jeevan, a paramedic who tried to save Leander’s life; Clark, Leander’s best friend and the founder of the Museum of Civilization.
The diversity and thus the interaction between these various characters, raises interesting questions about life after civilization: what truly matters when everything, everything, is gone? what does it take to recreate what we have now?What does art mean to those struggling for mere survival, and is indeed mere survival not enough? In the end, we realize that all we have taken for granted can be just as quickly taken away from us — this Mandel makes very clear…the first few chapters emphasize how vulnerable we are, how vulnerable our lives are, how vulnerable our memories are.
Station Eleven was a book that I just could not put down at all — beautifully written and hauntingly elegant, St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is a must-read for everyone.