Lawrence Wright is an esteemed journalist and author. Among his many honours is his Pulitzer Prize for the non-fiction book, The Looming Tower about the rise of al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11. This is a meticulously researched book in the form of a novel. It contains much factual information about historic epidemics and their rampage through the worlds' population and the social, political and economic aftermath. It also provided details of cyberattacks, bio-warfare and experimentation with pathogens.
Written before the present COVID pandemic, the author displays a mastery of historic details and scientific information. This is a chilling, prophetic novel forecasting what is happening now all over the world. The Kongoli virus described in this work of fiction is more deadly than the fearsome present Coronavirus.
The amount of information early in the book was overwhelming. I felt that the character of Dr. Henry Parsons was only there to connect parts of the narrative and move the story along. Dr. Henry is sent to Indonesia by WHO. He is considered the leading epidemiologist in infectious diseases.
There has been an outbreak of a disease of unknown origin in an Indonesian camp killing dozens of young men. Members of Doctors Without Borders have also died. It was evident that a coverup of the disease was underway. Dr. Henry was initially refused entrance and told the men were terrorists who were executed. When Dr. Henry finally examines the dead and dying, he realizes that this is a new, unknown viral disease. It has characteristics of the Coronavirus but is also similar to Ebola which manifests itself by hemorrhagic fever, bleeding from the eyes and other parts of the body while the lungs dissolve.
The Kongoli pandemic moves from Indonesia to Mecca at the time of the annual hajj. Despite efforts to contain it, there are many deaths. Pilgrims returning to their home countries before the quarantine is enforced spread the contagion. It is also being transported by avian migration. We see the horrific symptoms of the disease through the eyes of Dr. Henry Parsons. The borders of Saudi Arabia are closed and planes grounded.
Dr. Henry is a small man, bent and deformed by rickets and using a cane. He has a loving family in Atlanta and is desperate to return to them. This is impossible since the country is in lockdown. He becomes friendly with Majid, a doctor and Saudi Prince. He and Dr. Henry discuss philosophy, religion, and how to best deal with the disease. Henry reveals to Majid the shocking truth of his young boyhood and how he developed rickets, a story he has never told anyone.
Partway through the book, the story becomes character-driven. Dr. Henry and his family become compelling, well-developed characters. The heroic Majid helps Henry escape the country. He begins the ordeal of making his way back home to his family.
America, by this time, is in desperate condition. Millions have died. The president and vice-president resemble Trump and Spence. There is disharmony within the government and many politicians have died. The electricity, phones and internet are down. Looters and criminal gangs are roaming mostly empty cities, food is scarce, hoarders have emptied stores. There are rumours that the virus has been engineered as a weapon, and Russia is blamed for cyberattacks causing the loss of power. Some political figures are demanding war, either by nuclear attacks or germ warfare. Survivors are urged to practice social distancing, and there is a prediction that a new wave of the disease will be coming.
There is a villainous character, Dr. Jurgen, who once worked with Dr. Henry, and has much influence. The fear, stress, and tribulations of Dr. Henry's family, left on their own, play a major part in the story. Will they be safe in all the turmoil Will he find his family again in the fractured, bankrupt country
This is a frightening, riveting story that provides the reader with a better understanding of virus-borne diseases. Like in our present pandemic, there was great pressure in the story to quickly find a cure and to make an effective serum to innoculate people against the disease. There is also their scarcity of protective equipment. I hope that the author will write a book in the future chronicling the COVID-19 pandemic.