All the talk about swine flu (April 2009) naturally calls up images of the catastrophic 14th-century pandemic of bubonic plague. Or the Black Death, as it came to be called, because of the gangrenous flesh of its victims, thanks to the disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), or purpura, that occurred. Actually, three types of plague appeared: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. The bubonic form apparently accounted for most of the millions of deaths.
What’s so astonishing about the current fear about the swine flu pandemic is that so far the fatality rate comes nowhere near that of AIDS in Africa and other countries. People ARE recovering from the swine flu.
And yet no one seems to be overly concerned about the AIDS pandemic. Many of the same things that happened as a result of the Black Death are now happening in Africa. For example. entire villages laid to waste, food shortages, lack of labor, loss of crops, starvation, etc.
Plagues invite novelists, as well as scientists and historians, to examine the societal effects of such rampant death and destruction. Ruth Linnea Whitney treated the African AIDS pandemic in her novel Slim (2003), while as every high school student knows (or should know), Albert Camus wrote The Plague (La Peste) about the impact of bubonic plague on the modern, yet hypothetical, Algerian city of Oran.
For what “feels” like an eye-witness account of the 14th-century plague, turn to Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague (2001).
(Until May 11, my posts will be a bit abbreviated as I prepare for a presentation on African cuisine at the ASFS meetings at Penn State. My apologies. I do hope to intrigue all of you with places to visit virtually, sites that will form the basis, perhaps, for later posts of a more elaborate nature.)