In this COVID-19 world, social distancing and self-isolation form a part of our new normal. This is when books step in to help us out. At a time when the news on the pandemic becomes too much of a reality check, fiction books on pandemics can provide a certain amount of distance while also keeping us grounded in the reality of our times. So, if you’re looking for a little comfort and company during this time, here are some wonderful fiction books on pandemics from authors like Colson Whitehead and Emily St. John Mandel.

01

Zone One

Colson Whitehead

A plague has infected the world, dividing humans into alive and undead. The alive were fortunately saved during the pandemic, but the undead were infected, and now roam the island of Manhattan. The protagonist, Mark Spitz, along with other civilians, is tasked with clearing out these ‘stragglers’, even as he is slowly coming to terms with a new world following the pandemic. But when things start going wrong again, will the world rise from the ashes of the pandemic or succumb once more? Pulitzer Prize-winner Colson Whitehead’s complex yet gripping story will haunt you for days after finishing it.

Buy it here.

02

The Last Town On Earth

Thomas Mullen

A town called Commonwealth quarantines itself at the end of World War I, when the Spanish flu had spread far and wide. It serves as a refuge for workers who were exploited for labour, but peace comes to an end when the sickness reaches the town’s door. Two soldiers, Philip and Graham, come upon a sick and hungry soldier seeking asylum in the town. What will the soldiers choose – safety or kindness? At a time when the real world feels like the setup for a dystopian novel and quarantine zones are a real thing, this novel that talks of safety and social responsibility will deeply reverberate within everyone.

Buy it here.

03

The Andromeda Strain

Michael Crichton

‘Project Scoop’ sends 17 satellites into space to look for organisms to study, but when one probe falls to the earth, everyone is in for a shock. The population of a town near the area where the probe falls turns up dead. When scientists are tasked with finding the cause, they realise that they are in for both a shock and a thrilling adventure. Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller is a work of art, where the government doesn’t listen, a single organism wreaks havoc on earth, and mankind is in a race against time.

Buy it here.

04

Journal Of The Plague Years

Norman Spinrad

Another year, another mysterious plague. But this time, the consequences were a little too different from regular outbreaks – sex was outlawed and Sex Police were rampant. In this fictional tale around AIDS, the fate of the world lies in the hands of four people – a Christian senator desperately trying to save the world, a scientist who is racing against time to discover a cure, a teenage girl who just wants to live freely before her time is up, and a soldier who wants to complete one mission before his death. Even though this is a satirical novel, the story is as pertinent today as it was 25 years ago, when the book was published.

Buy it here.

05

Beauty Salon

Mario Bellatin, Kurt Hollander (Tr.)

A plague leaves the city ravaged, with the sick abandoned and left to die by their close ones. Feeling pity, a hairdresser opens his doors for the sick, and converts his shop into a resting place for the dying. As sick people continue to arrive, the isolated hairdresser’s life gets deeply entangled in the death and decay around him. Distressing yet frankly candid, Beauty Salon is the haunting tale of a man who takes up the critical responsibility of caring for the sick, when the world chooses to drop the ball.

Buy it here.

06

Blindness

José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (Tr.)

A city is plagued by a mysterious ‘white blindness’ that causes everyone to see a white light. It spreads fast, and before we know it, the society descends into anarchy. Blindness leads to innocents being terrorised by criminals, with their things stolen and their lives in peril. The army has no choice but to confine them in a mental asylum, where they are at the mercy of a single person who can miraculously see. Their real test begins when they realise that the army has abandoned the hospital, and they are forced to navigate the world on the basis of their remaining senses. Depicting cruelty, hope and the reality of the world, this novel is a must-read.

Buy it here.

07

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel

On the night the world ends, a Hollywood actor, Arthur Leander, looking to restart his career, dies while performing the role of King Lear. 20 year into the future, a theatre group travels the world (or what is left of it). One of the members of the group is Kirsten, a girl who was present beside Arthur when he died. He had a profound influence on her life, and gradually, she comes across people whose lives have intersected both hers and Arthur’s. But meeting new and old people comes at a cost, as Kirsten has to first solve the mystery of the disappearing people and a mysterious prophet. A dystopian novel that will leave you breathless, this is one of the most arresting apocalyptic novels till date.   

Buy it here.