Book Fridays: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A pandemic wipes out 99% of the human population. What happens afterwards? This is one of the questions that this book seeks to answer. The Georgia Flu hits fast and hard. Civilization collapses. Everyone is on their own. Apocalyptic stories scare me, mostly because they’re possible but also because I have zero faith in my surviving beyond the first few days if that. How does society make a comeback?

The story moves back and forth between pre and post apocalypse. You get to see the trivial and completely useless lives that people lived. The things that mattered but soon wouldn’t because Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would come into play before people knew what hit them. The story follows regular people on this journey and I think that is why I enjoyed this book so much. It was about survival but it was also about the human spirit and how it can be challenged but still manage to shine bright.

One of the characters, Clark is on an aeroplane when the pandemic reaches critical mass and is forced to make an emergency landing. The airport becomes his home. Fortunately none of the passengers are infected but a plane does land and is kept quarantined. All the passengers die inside that plane. The horror, the decision made to keep the flu contained inside that vessel is one that kept me thinking long after it happened. It wasn’t even a particularly important part of the story as it was not delved into but my mind delved into it.

“A rape on the night of Day Eighty-five, the airport woken after midnight by a woman’s scream. They tied the man up until sunrise and then drove him into the forest at gunpoint, told him if he returned he would be shot. “I’ll die out here alone,” he said, sobbing, and no one disagreed but what else could they do?”

Justice and safety are important and this passage illustrates that beautifully. That rapist broke the social contract and he faced consequences that sadly he might not have faced in our civilization. He was exiled and it most likely meant his death but order HAD to be maintained. And how awful would it have been for the woman he raped if he had been allowed to stay out of pity. Life inside the airport was fragile but good prevailed.

During a mission to gather whatever supplies they could from outside the airport a group walked by a hotel. Abandoned and reeking with death they did not enter but were later followed by a resident of the same. His sheer relief at finding people broke my heart. It once again brought to mind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which are as follows: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization.

People naturally sought to have their physiological needs met first as these are essential for survival. Food, water, and shelter are the first needs to be met. This is followed by safety and then love/belonging. Humans are social animals and this interpersonal need is important. It is why people were grouped together, not just for survival but because psychologically it hurts to be without company. A lot of the story follows characters as they meet these three needs first and slowly branch out to other things.

What I loved about this story is that it looked at humanity with hopefulness. Even in adversity there is good in people and good can win. That’s not to say that there weren’t any bad apples along the way but by and large there was a faith in humanity that came across loud and clear.