“True stories from the front lines of Covid-19” is the tagline for this somber but excellent collection of ten short stories about the current pandemic.
Published in December of 2020 (before another graphic novel with the same name and more contributors in February of 2021), these timely vignettes utilize the stories that NBC News used online that visualized life for front line and essential workers early in the pandemic.
These personal accounts span the globe, giving us intimate looks at people affected by this terrible world-wide crisis. Often times people become numb to mass suffering (which I first noticed during the 2004 tsunami) but connect with individual stories. Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, explains: When numbers simply can’t convey the costs, there’s an infuriating paradox at play. Slovic calls it psychic numbing. As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to help, reliably decreases. This happens even when the number of victims increases from one to two. (Vox.com, September 5, 2017– written well before this pandemic)
The book begins with a foreword by actress and activist Alyssa Milano who warns that we will not “enjoy” these stories, instead they are to be “experienced”. And that proved to be very true- they were difficult but necessary stories that showed humanity in the midst of sorrow. The following ten accounts were interviews that Ethan Sacks the comic book author, and former journalist for the New York Daily News, conducted with acquaintances and then branched out to other people willing to share their stories and photos for the artist Dalibor Talajić to refer to when creating his evocative illustrations. The art was deceptively simple, yet conveyed great emotion.
The ten stories varied in locale (US, China, Mexico, Canada, Italy) with a mix of stories about medical staff, patients and researchers. There was an opera singer in Italy that went viral (check YouTube video at end of post), a man visiting family in Wuhan and having to stay for four months vs a few days, a street medic helping during BLM protests in Tulsa (I found the behind-the-scenes prep very inspiring), a journalist who finds out during the interview that the mother doesn’t know her adult son just died, doctors making tough calls and scientists tracking the early spread of the disease.
As the foreword warned, I did not enjoy this book, yet I am so glad I read it. It brought back memories of my anguish of having my mother hospitalized twice last summer (not with Covid) and not being able to visit her in the hospital. But it also reminded me of the kind healthcare workers who helped me speak to her daily with phone and video calls. There is a lot of kindness in the world, and this book shines a light on people who have stepped up to help during this terrible time.