I can’t say I envy literary agents. A great tsunami of pandemic manuscripts approaches that will flood their inboxes with either half-baked dystopian fiction set in a world devastated by a great plague, or bland memoirs telling the tale of life in lockdown.
I say half-baked and bland because having lived through such a historic moment made me realize that history, for the most part, and for most people, is not that exciting.
Bothersome? Sure. Stressful? God, yes. Maddening? Absolutely. But hardly the inspirational material for the next great novel. Not directly, at least.
I’ve done my bit of soul searching these past two months, much like everyone else, I imagine, but I couldn’t find any memoir-worth revelations. If anything, I discovered that without people, and locked in the confines of our Berlin flat, my mind pales, dries, cracks, hollows out, and becomes all kinds of unappetizing. A memoir? How would I call it? The Overeating Diaries?
The real voices of the pandemic will emerge later, much later. Nurses, doctors, and other frontline workers will tell their stories, but only after they have ample time to recover. They’re the ones to give us not news, but a narrative. Accounts of overflowing intensive care units; nurses forced to chose who lives and who dies; of people dying without grace or dignity, all alone; of information suppression and government failings.
The voices that arise out of the pandemic are worth listening to, as they will shape the next decade of politics and social change.