Three voices from Australia, USA and UK
Sulari Gentill: May our stories be the embrace
Covid19 has truly shaken the world as we understand it, undermined the foundations of capitalism and destabilised all we have built upon them. But more than that, it has challenged human interaction, taken from us in a time of crisis the ability to comfort each other. The handshake, the hug, the kiss are now dangerous and forbidden, and it seems we must stand alone to face what comes.
For me, Covid19 is the second life-threatening crisis of the year, and it is its effect on interaction and community that are particularly cruel at this time.
My home is in Batlow, a little town in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. It was expected that Batlow would be razed by wildfire and reduced to ashes in the first days of 2020. We were, thanks to the extraordinary courage and efforts of our volunteer fire-fighters, saved from annihilation, but we are still wounded. Homes and livelihoods were lost, the natural beauty of the mountains charred, wildlife destroyed. In the smouldering aftermath we have gathered to help each other, to rebuild, replant and reconnect. Our strength and resilience has been in coming together. Australians are not an especially demonstrative people, and particularly those of us from the country are known for our observance of personal space. But since the fires we have greeted each other with hugs and the salutation, “I’m so glad you’re still here.” Even the most restrained among us have reached out for a human touch, handshakes have become longer accompanied by the brace of shoulders, hugs have be a real press of bodies rather than a social affectation. We have shared meals and stories and tears. But now there is Covid19 and all those things which have sustained us may kill us, or at least some of us.
I have spoken to CulturMag before on what it is for a writer to abandon her house, on what it means to say good bye to the place you have created and in which you create, what if feels like to flee the place in which you have always found refuge. My house survived the fires, though everything around it was lost. We returned to a house without water or power or sewerage in the midst of a blackened garden, grateful just to stand within its walls. And even as the roots of trees, still burning beneath the ground, flared into flame around us, we felt safer and more relaxed here than anywhere else.
And so now I am particularly cognisant of those people displaced by the fires—or for any other reason—who are dealing with confinement and fear in a strange place. Victims of disaster, refugees, the homeless. Those who do not have the comfort of familiar walls within which to shelter from an invisible and ruthless predator.
As a writer, I’m watching my industry and my colleagues struggle as book events and launches are cancelled and bookstores are closed. My latest books have just been released or are about to be released in Australia the US and the UK. My agent sent out my new manuscript just days before this all started. The timing has not been good. Sometimes, it feels like my career too is smouldering around me, and in these moments I hang onto the idea that stories are my home, my shelter. I can retreat into them for as long as it takes to do my part to slow COVID19. And if that means those books never have a chance for success, I will write others. Careers can be resurrected, people cannot.
My sincere hope is that my books (those that have made it into the hands of readers) are an escape and a comfort. That those who read them are for a time relieved of reality. Perhaps my work will embrace people, while I am not allowed to do so. Perhaps we may be connected by stories while we keep our distance.
Writer Sulari Gentill nearly lost her house to the Australian bushfires, had already been forced to give it up. Her husband and son are firefighters themselves, they were out defending their doomed community. With Alf Mayer she spoke in the CrimeMag March issue about this harrowing experience: „We need to rebuild more than fire-impacted houses“.
Sulari’s work is not yet translated in Germany. Her website here. After setting out to study astrophysics, graduating in law and then abandoning her legal career to write books, Sulari used to grow French black truffles on her farm in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains of NSW. She is author of the award-winning Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, a series of historical crime fiction novels set in the 1930s about Rowland Sinclair, a gentleman artist-cum-amateur-detective. Her novel Crossing the Lines won the 2018 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Fiction.
Lisa Sandlin: Candle in the Window
It’s going to be different tomorrow. I’m sure of that because I wrote this piece yesterday, March 25, 2020, and now I have to rewrite. One hundred fifteen people in the state of New Mexico are infected with the coronavirus, and we have had our first death, a man in his late ‘70s. Tomorrow the infected toll will rise, as it has been rising for days now.
The age ranges have been broad, not just old people. We’re fortunate in that we have a governor who gives us daily bulletins. She has shut down nonessential businesses and she is with us, emotionally. I recently read on twitter, “The leaders are emerging. I’m not talking electeds. Pay attention. The leaders are emerging.” Our Governor Michelle Luhan Grisham, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, other governors, health officials, doctor, nurses, volunteers are stepping up. The nominal head of the US is an ignorant grifter, but these people are and will be our leaders.
Friends who believe they had or now have the virus have not been able to be tested, even when they met the criteria. They’ve been turned away due to a shortage of tests, because they are too young, or for no good reason.
I took a Facebook poll to gather info from other states. From a rural Nebraska area with a 60% poverty rate, some teenagers have not signed on to their new, online lessons. They’re working to support the family farm. A friend who lives in Gypsum, Colorado, near Eagle, a virus hotspot, has ordered a Hazmat suit. A friend in Texas who recently lost her middle-aged son is now in charge of a 19 year-old grandson who won’t stay home because, of course: 19 and invincible. Another friend has a brand new grandson she can only see by standing outside and gazing through a window.
Friends who are immunocompromised are afraid, friends who are not but are out working with the public are afraid for themselves and their families. I felt depressed when a friend whose husband sells guns reported that he has been run ragged. People who haven’t owned guns before want them now because they’re afraid of what might be coming. Just as depressing are the people who declare they’re ready to die for the economy. These are the people who are buying Trump’s statement, based solely on self-interest, that the government must be reopened by Easter and people should return to work.
Plenty of us, however, have declared we’re #NotDying4WallStreet.
Meanwhile, we’re in our own places 24/7. I’m lucky since I’m a writer and therefore always have work to do—though I do miss the company of my kitty who died in January. Friends call more than usual. My Spanish literature class is conducted on Zoom. The grocery store wipes down the cart handle, and toilet paper is still rare. Stealth visit to a friend yesterday at rush hour, only there was no traffic.
We feel awful for China’s losses and horrified at the onslaught in Europe. We pray for all exhausted, heroic medical personnel, love and admire the Italian mayors’ righteous wrath, and smile with balcony singing from wherever it comes. We were glad to hear that Angela Merkel has tested negative.
Today I found out that my son’s girlfriend is working on a Covid ward at a Brooklyn hospital, and Brooklyn has been slammed, per today’s New York Times: “We’re in Disaster Mode: Inside a Brooklyn Hospital Confronting Coronavirus.” Tomorrow the numbers of sick and dead will go up. We can’t predict the day the virus will begin to be contained. We can predict more tragic, murderous stupidity from Trump. We search out reliable information sources and share news with each other; we help however we can, stay home so we don’t add to a hospital’s burden. We hope. I’m not religious but today I have a candle burning for that Brooklyn hospital.
Lisa Sandlin is the author of The Do-Right, out in Germany as Ein Job für Delpha – which made No. 2 on CrimeMag’s Top Ten List 2017, and of The Bird-Boys, just out in Germany as Family Business. Exclusiv for CrimeMag-Readers: The Way Fayann Found, a story-ette for Delpha, by Lisa Sandlin; Katja Bohnet in CrimeMag über Lisa Sandlins Ein Job für Delpha: Tausche Schaukelstuhl gegen Bein.
Robert Wilson: Coronatimes
Like many people in the UK no sooner had I managed to wrench myself free of the Brexit business than we were introduced to the words ‘coronavirus’ and ‘Covid 19’ and a whole new syllabus commenced.
This time it was a bit more complicated than truth and lies about trade and sovereignty. It demanded knowledge of maths, epidemiology, microbiology, vaccines and more. Now my head is full of exponential curves, reproduction numbers, daily death tolls, social distancing, lockdowns and the time taken for animal and human trials to make a vaccine.
As always I wake up early to work. It is silent, but now the noise of life never takes off. It is silent all day. Birdsong is audible. More birds come into the garden than ever before. The weather has been quite brilliant and the air pristine. Every day we have diamond bright sunshine in a perfect blue sky with not one aircraft’s contrail across it. No dull roar of traffic. The street is empty. The cherry trees are in blossom, the magnolias in flower. My front garden is alive with the tight, tiny blue blooms of grape hyacinths. The leaves are bursting out of their buds on the chestnut trees and rose bushes. Spring has sprung.
Out there in this new silent world and living amongst us is the virus. A strange multi-spiked package of complex biochemicals, it does not exactly live, but can nevertheless be active, and is constantly seeking friends, hosts who are warm and inviting. There it will hang up its coat, bare its genes and encourage the host’s replication machinery to reproduce its DNA or RNA and manufacture more viral protein based on a list of instructions it keeps in its nucleic acid. And hey presto more spikey viruses pop up and off they go rampaging around their hosts’ house nicking booze and trying on hats and sometimes very much worse.
Back in the now surreal sunshine world of self-isolation and lockdown we have, through the Oscar-winning movie, become aware of different levels of parasitism. Not just those who attach themselves to others and successfully live on their wealth but also those deeper down and others apparently above doing just the same thing.
It’s easy to conclude that the coronavirus is merely another parasite living off its host’s metabolic system. But what if there’s level of consciousness between what is alive and what is on the verge of living and the coronavirus is its representative?
It is believed that the coronavirus came from the ‘wet market’ in Wuhan, which sells ‘fresh’ wild animals to the locals who, I presume, crave the cuisine of the Communist era when they raided the larder in the forest around them and developed a taste for it. In those days Wuhan was only 2 million people, now it is 8.3 million and in its metropolitan area has as many as 19 million. This is not the first time that a virus has made a species leap, but it is the first time that it has successfully been able occupy hosts without killing too many of them and to rove so mercilessly around the planet.
And here we are talking to our neighbours standing in the clean air under the brilliant sunshine and all around us species of animal and fish are returning to their natural habitats while very good, previously underestimated, people are battling day and night to save the lives of those who are loved. And we remember what it is to be human.
See also his essay on Vasily Grossman’s great book „Life and Fate“ in this issue: „The Book of the Hour“. – Ein Interview mit Alf Mayer hier. His appearance in this magazine here/ Robert Wilson bei CrimeMag hier.