cover image Year of Plagues: A Memoir of 2020

Year of Plagues: A Memoir of 2020

Fred D’Aguiar. Harper, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-309153-5

D’Aguiar (Children of Paradise) takes a powerful and intimate look at his experiences battling cancer during the Covid-19 pandemic. The author, a UCLA literature and creative writing professor, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2019 and was still fighting his disease when California went into lockdown, leaving him gripped by the thought that the crisis was “another manifestation of my cancer, a pincer attack on my life from outside and from within.” In lyrical, meditative passages, he describes the comfort he found in poetry, relying on Keats’s wisdom to “stay with insecurity rather than run back to certainty.” In addition to shouldering the weight of his diagnosis—which he hid from friends and family to avoid burdening them with another worry during the pandemic—D’Aguiar recalls how he reckoned with his private jeopardy in the face of America’s virulent racism after the murder of George Floyd. Dashes of humor—as when D’Aguiar discusses flatulence, an act which, thanks to his meds, “must announce itself like the big bang”—offer brief respites from the grim subject matter, and, throughout, the author’s resilience inspires. This makes the fragility of life devastatingly palpable. Agent: Jeffrey Leinman, Folio Literary. (Aug.)