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“Survival Is Insufficient”

A review of “Station 11” and the beauty that it holds

Josie Laur, Copy Editor
Originally published November 15, 2020

In the world of fiction, the idea of a virus of one sort or another that sweeps through and decimates the population isn’t exactly a new one. Zombies, aliens, and instant death (oh, my) are common enough, especially in the horror and science-fiction genres.

    Now, though, these types of post-apocalyptic books have somewhat of a different impact. The premise of Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel “Station 11” is spookier than some flesh-eating situation to me, mostly because it’s like a worst-case scenario of our lives right now.

    In “Station 11,” we the readers are introduced to a world where the Georgia Flu—a mutated version of the swine flu—has killed 99% of the population. Like I said—a horrifying extreme of COVID-19, and yet something that is probably far more relatable to us 2020-ians than people reading in 2014.

    That’s just the context for the novel, though. The story itself is about far, far more than that. 

It’s about loss and tragedy and fading memories. It’s about learning to move on when you have no other choice. It’s about hope and love, growth and change.

    Told from alternating perspectives that twist and fold through time—from before the pandemic, to the beginning of the sickness, to the years after—in no chronological order other than their importance and relevance to some other current moment in the characters’ history, Mandel creates a rich and beautiful web of a world.

    All of the owners of those perspectives are clearly well-developed, even if they only appear for three or less pages. Their stories all come together, or don’t, or intertwine only briefly, and yet you still get the sense that they’re all unique people. That takes skill, and it’s clear Mandel has it.

    The story also focuses on the arts and how they can shine in the darkness, mostly through the lens of Shakespeare (and musical accompaniment). The idea that you can keep creating what you love—theater, art, music—even in the worst of times and others will love it too is a powerful message, and one that is subtle but present for the majority of the book.

    So yes, reading about a worst-case pandemic in the middle of our own actual pandemic may sound daunting, but I really recommend “Station 11.” It’s a reminder that people are strong enough to keep living and creating and believing, as long as they have each other and hope in the future.

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“Survival Is Insufficient”