Wednesday, February 22, 2017

1918: The Great Pandemic, A Novel - David Cornish

Summary: *FIRST PLACE, LITERARY FICTION -- Independent Publishers of New England Book Awards ( Written by a doctor of Internal Medicine, "1918" is a rigorously researched and accurate historical novel about the pandemic that killed up to 100 million people. The story is told through the eyes of Dr. Edward Noble, an army major and infectious disease sub-specialist, whose unique position in Boston allows him to detect an emerging influenza strain that is an unprecedented global threat. The actual medical literature and terminology of the time, plus real personal accounts of the pandemic, are used to put the reader in the mind of this early 20th century physician. KIRKUS REVIEWS said, ..". (Dr.) Noble is an appealing, knowledgeable focal point in this fictionalized rendering of the great pandemic. ...Affecting characters and dramatic storytelling..." said, "5 Stars." "I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone... A great story that weaves the reader between a macro view of one of the most deadly pandemics in history, yet within the chapters there are precious, personal moments that humanize the hero that Dr. Noble unwittingly, yet humbly portrays to the rest of the world. A great read on all levels!" *AWARD WINNER, HISTORICAL FICTION, READERS' FAVORITE INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARD - said, "5 Stars." ..".1918 is a must read..." The meticulous narrative undeniably has the ability to transport readers back to the era..." (Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: One of the things I really love about historical fiction is how it not only brings to life the particular topic it is discussing, but also what is going on at the time. So many times I’ll be reading historical fiction and the author will mention other things going on that I had no idea about—inventions that were happening, famous people that were involved or around, and I just really love how a good historical fiction book will tie a whole lot of loose ends together and make sense of an era.

1918 is just such a book. Now, don’t get me wrong. 1918 has a subtitle, and it really lives up to its subtitle. Those parts of the book were quite frightening, actually. In case you are not well-versed in the great pandemic and this mother of all streams of influenza, right before people die they turn a shocking blue. Like legit blue. Also, the people dying would cough up tons of frothy pink phlegm, so much so that entire rooms would be covered with it, and that would just be from one person. Being the good little modern day gal that I am, I googled images of this, trying to find what this would actually look like. It’s not as easy as you might think to find images of people who have turned blue, and that is not in no small part due to the fact that photography was black and white back then. So I never actually found images of this horrific part of the end for some of these very unfortunate people, but it scared me enough that after I looked through lots of pictures I just couldn’t take it anymore and I abandoned my search and got back to reading about the horror instead of trying to Google Image the horror. Also, I spent a lot of time washing my hands while reading this book since the flu is particularly bad this year and I have a new baby.

This is one of those books whose horror is such that it’s just almost impossible to believe. So many people died in such horrific ways, and it basically crippled society for quite awhile. Although I wouldn’t say this is a book that is written with particular literary acumen, Cornish is an MD and obviously knows his stuff about the flu and the history of it and what it was like back then. A lot of research went into this book, and there is a lot of detail, all wrapped into a story that brought the era into light.

Although this book did have a lot of good things going for it, it had a few flaws as well. The writing was not amazing, and I would say that it was quite immature at times. There wasn’t potty humor or anything, but it was obviously written by a novice novel writer. Also, the book was long. Loooooooonnnnnnggggg. 767 pages long, and that doesn’t include an extensive list of sources cited or anything. I really think that this book could have been cut in half or in a third and it still would have retained the story and the impact. There were a lot of minute details (like every patient’s ever vital sign) that could have been taken out just to save space. Lastly, there were quite a few editorial errors—missing words, missing punctuation, etc. One or two of these is fine, and I’m kind of persnickety about this, but it was definitely noticeable.

All of these things being said, I have to say that I learned quite a bit about the pandemic and the era in which it took place. I am officially getting my flu shot religiously (which I have done for the past several years anyway) and am even more vigilant about hand washing and such. I appreciated understanding the magnitude of what was going on, and I feel like this book did a great job of getting its message across.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is disturbing in its reality of discussing the 1918 influenza, but it is not gratuitously insensitive. Also, there is some veiled discussion of love and tender moments in between the two main characters, but this is very clean.                 

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