WHO: Lawrence Wright
WHAT: THE END OF OCTOBER, a novel
WHEN: Published by Knopf April 28, 2020
WHERE: The author lives in Austin.
WHY: “A gripping medical thriller that mirrors the coronavirus outbreak all too closely.
“Epidemiologist Dr. Henry Parsons visits a detention camp for Indonesian gay men, hoping to understand the cause of a deadly illness there before it can spread. His wife and children back in Atlanta just want him home, but when the virus hits the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca of more than two million faithful that is the world’s largest human gathering, Henry finds himself marooned abroad by a travel ban while a pandemic ravages the world.
“New Yorker staff writer and author of the Pulitzer-winning The Looming Tower, Wright meticulously paints the direst personal, social, and political scenarios that a virus can create, focusing particularly on the US and Middle East descending into anarchy. Readers will find a memorable character in Henry, a doctor who is shown living with a disability while getting on with crucial work and family life. His family, too, will stay with readers, as the consequences for them form a heartbreaking microcosm of world events and the lengths to which humans will go to survive.
“This book is likely to be on best-of-the-year lists. The combination of a high-powered novel from a celebrated nonfiction writer and the compelling connection to current events is sure to generate off-the-book-page coverage.”
—Henrietta Verma, in a starred review for BOOKLIST
“A disturbing, eerily timed novel.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS
“A timely literary page-turner.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, a starred review
. . . . .
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK:
In a large auditorium in Geneva, a parliament of health officials gathered for the final afternoon session on emergency infectious diseases. The audience was restless, worn out by the day-long meetings and worried about catching their flights. The terrorist attack in Rome had everyone on edge.
“An unusual cluster of adolescent fatalities in a refugee camp in Indonesia,” the next-to-last speaker of the conference was saying. Hans Somebody. Dutch. Tall, arrogant, well fed. An untrimmed fringe of gray-blond hair spilled over his collar, the lint on his shoulders sparkling in the projected light of the PowerPoint.
A map of Indonesia flashed on the screen. “Forty-seven death certificates were issued in the first week of March at the Kongoli Number Two Camp in West Java.” Hans indicated the spot with his laser pointer, followed by slides of destitute refugees in horrible squalor. The world was awash in displaced people, millions pressed into hastily assembled camps and fenced off like prisoners, with inadequate rations and scarce medical facilities. Nothing surprising about an epidemic spilling out of such places. Cholera, diphtheria, dengue-the tropics were always cooking up something.
“High fever, bloody discharges, rapid transmission, extreme lethality. But what really distinguishes this cluster,” Hans said, as he posted a graph, “is the median age of the victims. Usually, infections randomly span the generations, but here the fatalities spike in the age group expected to be the most vigorous portion of the population.”
In the large auditorium in Geneva, the parliament of health officials leaned forward to study the curious slide. Most mortal diseases kill off the very young and the very old, but instead of the usual U-shaped graph, this one resembled a crude W, with an average age of death of twenty-nine. “Based on sketchy reports from the initial outbreak, we estimate the overall lethality at 70 percent,” Hans said.
400 pages. $27.95 ISBN 978-0-525-65865-8
To interview the author, contact: Erinn Hartman | 212-572-2345 | firstname.lastname@example.org