Friday, May 02, 2008

Book Review: The Thin White Line


# 1943



I don't usually do book reviews, but then authors haven't been in the habit of sending me advance copies of their books . . . until now.  A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Craig DiLouie, a Canadian author who has just published his second novel,  The Thin White Line: A History of the 2012 Avian Flu Pandemic in Canada.  


Craig offered to send me a copy of his book, and hoped I would review it in my blog.   I received the book yesterday and read it last night.


The book's website describes the novel this way:



On September 15, 2012, a restaurant worker  enters a hospital in Guangdong, China complaining of flu symptoms. This single event ignites a conflagration of disease that burns its way around the world, leaving death, recession, revolution and war in its wake.


In THE THIN WHITE LINE, author Craig DiLouie presents a terrifying vision about how a pandemic might unfold, focusing on the Canadian experience but relevant to any country.


Reading as if it were a non-fiction book describing a pandemic that has already happened, THE THIN WHITE LINE combines a realistic, meticulously researched scenario with dramatic firsthand accounts of people who survived these tragic times.


I always approach pandemic fiction, whether it be books or movies, with a good deal of trepidation.   My hopes are that the writers will know the subject, that the story and characters will be believable, and that the plot not rely on a Deus Ex Machina, or improbable solution at the finale to `save the world'.


I'm almost always disappointed. 


Not so with The Thin White Line.   The author obviously knows the subject well, the plot and the characters are believable, and no miracle occurs in the last chapter.  In fact, just like in real life, the book leaves the world staring into an uncertain future.


Although a fictional novel, The Thin White Line is written as if it were a text book, a post mortem, written just months after the first pandemic wave has ended.   The world is slowly recovering, but still faces a possible second and third pandemic wave. 


The story is told through a narrative voice, and through interviews with survivors.   Most of the action takes place in Canada, and little is said of the rest of the world, perhaps accurately reflecting the `fog of war' that would exist during a global crisis.


The author's choice to make the first pandemic wave roughly equivalent to the second, and worst wave of the 1918 Spanish flu, may disappoint some readers.  While not an apocalyptic vision, the effects of the pandemic described are quite bad enough.  


The Thin White Line refers to the men and women who work in the health care system, and it is through their eyes that much of the story is told.   This book is in many ways a tribute to the dedication and resilience of doctors and nurses who will be on the front lines during a pandemic.


The book is meticulously researched, with scores of footnotes, and a couple of dozen photographs and charts, giving it the appearance of a textbook, not a novel.   This was a bold choice by the author, as it probably reduces the book's commercial appeal, but helps to legitimize the subject matter.



This is not your typical `disaster novel', with a beautiful and brilliant virologist who stays one step ahead of nefarious agents of Big Pharma while creating a vaccine to save the world . . .  it is an unflinching, realistic, and informative look at how Canada might fare during a pandemic.


Health care workers (HCW's) may find this book of particular interest because it delves into the conflicts between `duty' and family during a pandemic.


It describes, in detail, the dangers and emotional toll of working in a pandemic   The book also briefly addresses the issue of the government forcing HCW's (Health Care Workers) to work.


The book is well written, although the format of the book doesn't allow the author to display much in the way of literary skills.  The narrative voice is unobtrusive, and the interviews vary enough in viewpoint to be believable.  The author manages to make the scientific and historical information easy to digest, which considering the subject, is an accomplishment.



While I appreciated this book, I recognize that it won't be everyone's cup of tea.    This isn't a breezy summer read, or a vicarious thrill ride.  Readers who are expecting a cheesy movie-of-the-week plot line and characters will be disappointed.


For those who are willing to take more thoughtful journey through a fictional pandemic, however, the Thin White Line fills the bill.