Review: Book richly illustrates pandemic’s impact on lives

This cover image released by Doubleday shows “Voices from the Pandemic: Americans Tell Their Stories of Crisis, Courage and Resilience” by Eli Saslow. (Doubleday via AP)

“Voices from the Pandemic” by Eli Saslow (Doubleday)

More than 18 months into the coronavirus pandemic, there’s already been a bumper crop of books about COVID-19 that have focused primarily on the policy failures that allowed the virus to spread.

Eli Saslow’s “Voices from the Pandemic” instead draws attention to the people who have been affected by the virus.

Originally a series that ran in the Washington Post and won a George Polk Award for oral history, “Voices from the Pandemic” offers numerous examples of the heartbreaking, infuriating and even inspiring ways COVID-19 has changed our world.

The stories range from the partner of the first patient in Indiana to die from COVID-19 to a Kentucky patient describing what it felt like to be intubated. A Georgia coroner describes the haunting reality of watching his community ravaged by the virus. A Connecticut woman shares the pain she feels after passing the virus on to her elderly mother.

The stories illustrate the other ways the pandemic has upended lives, including a woman evicted from her home and a mother struggling with virtual learning for her children while schools were closed.

Reading a book like this in the midst of the delta variant’s surge may seem like a depressing pursuit, but it feels oddly cathartic. So many of the emotions and experiences are familiar. This collection is a reminder of how much we all share in common during a time of great loss.

A chapter on the fight over masks that features a general store employee struggling with customers who refuse to wear them and an Arizona man who goes into stores to demonstrate against their mandate feels particularly resonant.

In the only “official” voice, the book begins with quotes from briefings from the World Health Organization early on in the pandemic. One passage feels particularly chilling.

“Are we ready to fight rumors and misinformation with clear and simple messages that people can understand? Are we able to have our people on our side to fight this outbreak?” the passage reads.

“Voices from the Pandemic” offers a rich and valuable portrait of a confusing, frightening time in our history, even with that second question yet to be answered.