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Eerie unveiling of human endurance

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By Pat Wellington

Australian writer Jeanette Turner Hospital has given us a haunting tale that keeps on resonating even after the last page. The title, Due Preparations for the Plague, is taken from a 17th century work of Daniel Defoe who as a child witnessed the horrors of the Black Death, an ironic title in that the premise of both his work and Hospital’s is that there is no way to prepare for a plague.

Hospital’s plague is terrorism which chooses randomly saints and sinners alike.

The story concerns the fictional 1988 hijacking of an Air France jetliner in which the children aboard were all released and later watched in horror as their parents’ plane was blown up. It is the present when the book opens – 2001 – and some of those children have found each other on the Internet and are probing the sinister CIA plot behind the tragedy.

Samantha is obsessed with unveiling the truth no matter where it leads her. Lowell is obsessed with the inadequate relationship he had with his father. Both are damaged goods.

What does come to light is that 10 of the hostages were taken off the plane just before it exploded to use for ransom. When governmental negotiations fell apart, they – one by one – looked into a camera and said their goodbyes before dying.

It is stunning and pretty eerie that this book was nearing completion before 9/11. The ending that was full of gloom and despair was changed when Hospital witnessed the radiant bravery of those doomed on planes or in towers as they expressed on their cell phones their love for their survivors:

“I was so amazed and fascinated by the reactions of the people in the top floors of the World Trade Towers. That suddenly they were sort of rushing at incredible speed into the white effulgence of death and had to react with the minutes of life left to them, and reacted in ways that to me are hugely reassuring about the human spirit.”

And that is the message that comes shining through the author’s penetrating prose – that people live through horrendous things and somehow keep on going. Or as Albert Camus put it in an epitaph – “What we learn in time of pestilence is that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.”

Pat Wellington is a retired English professor, freelance writer, and faculty member of On Top of the World’s Master the Possibilities, who shares her passion for books with others.