cover image A Diary of the Plague Year: An Illustrated Chronicle of 2020

A Diary of the Plague Year: An Illustrated Chronicle of 2020

Elise Engler. Metropolitan, $32 (394p) ISBN 978-1-250-82469-1

Artist Engler debuts with a stunning visual chronicle of what many consider “the worst year of our lives.” From January 20, 2020, to January 21, 2021, Engler created a work of art for each day of the calamitous period marked by Covid-19, based on the headlines every morning. These evocative works, accompanied by brief notes summarizing the day’s news, lead readers through the monumental, mundane, and transitory events of what Engler calls “a time scarred by fecklessness, devastation, rage, injustice, illness, and death.” While the pandemic looms large in her provocative paintings—as well as former president Trump’s two impeachments—she underscores how, despite humanity being on pause, “we managed to carry on.” On offer are portraits that juxtapose the profound with the prosaic—Kobe Bryant’s death on January 27, 2020; Tom Brady’s signing with Tampa Bay for $60 million (which happened, she notes, the same day that New York “declared disaster”); the murder of George Floyd in May and the subsequent summer of protest; and President Biden’s inauguration. In a blunt style that captures the urgency and confusion of that year, Engler’s paintings offer an extraordinarily haunting time capsule of an era readers soon won’t forget. (Jan.)