21 September 2010

Day 178: Nemesis

Nemesis by Philip Roth.  ISBN: 9780547318356 (ARC - publishes October 12, 2010).

It's been about 60 years since they discovered the polio vaccine.  I have lived in a mostly polio-free world.  I don't know anyone personally who is or was afflicted by it, but my grandparents must have lived in terror of it every summer.  They were born in the 1910's and 1920's, they likely knew people who died, they may even have played with a little girl or boy who didn't make it past their 12th birthday.

Do kids even know about polio these days?  I know about it only because we visited a museum where Franklin Roosevelt sought treatment and relief in special pools.  Do kids know how lucky they are to live in a world where they don't have to worry about whether they'll wake up one day to find that they will be trapped in an iron lung for the rest of their lives?  I half wonder if the constant fear of death lent a certain character to previous generations that later ones lack, a certain hardiness and understanding that they are specks of dust in the cosmos rather than the bright burning sun around which the world revolves.

It's hard to bitch about ruining your iPad (or not having one) when the kid next door dies and the one down the street lost the use of her legs.

I bet they don't know that polio is only a plane ride away.  All you have to do is hop a plane to India and come in contact with the wrong food vendor, shake the wrong person's hand, kiss the wrong stranger, take the wrong money as change.  Or come in contact with someone who has done these things.  It is not impossible for polio to make a come back; we're already seeing the return of whooping cough.  And while our flus are getting more pernicious and more likely to cause death, they haven't yet gotten to the levels of polio in its heyday.  I don't know that we'll be faced with population-decimating diseases, but I do know that this is the largest population we've had on this planet, and the times are ripe for large numbers of people to spread a highly communicable disease at a very quick rate.  Enjoy your life; if these are the worst days, I'll count myself lucky.

My review can be found on Goodreads.


  1. What a good point! While I wasn't a huge fan of this book... I am a HUGE fan of not having polio and not having to worry about contacting polio. I really hope it doesn't make a comeback.

  2. Amy,
    Ditto. Although I get the feeling we're probably more in trouble from something completely unknown. Polio would still hit a lot of people _very_ hard if it were to make its way back to the States. I also agree with your assessment of the book, I spent so much time not caring about the characters that I had plenty of time to scare myself about possible viruses spreading across the globe.

  3. This is exactly how I felt after reading THE HOT ZONE. Have you read that one? Chilling is all I can say.

  4. Heather,
    I read it _years_ ago. I'm pretty sure I was still in high school. That one was definitely more terrifying than Nemesis, but then the fear was more central to Hot Zone, whereas in Nemesis it seemed to be a coping mechanism for my brain not to be terribly bored with the characters in Roth's work.

    I did read a book called Plague Year that was along the same lines, but much less captivating. The entry for it is here.

  5. Amy, glad I'm not the only one who just couldn't get in to it. I also found it to be very race centric - it was all the Italians fault, and the Jews were being persecuted, and they wanted to keep the Jews safe, and it really focused on the one group over the whole city. That part also alienated me, and fits in to what you say in todays post - the choosing a scapegoat and making it all about one group to the detriment of another.


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