Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 30, 2020

This quote strikes as particularly poignant – acknowledgement that the promise of “deliverance” from the plague does not only bring joy with it, but also tears, the recognition of all that has been lost. In today’s pages Cottard and Tarrou talk about what happens when the plague is gone, whether it is possible “that everything would begin again as before, that is to say, as though nothing had happened.” The notion of “starting again” is raised a few different times; Cottard “imagined the town starting to live again from zero and wiping out its past.” Is such a thing possible? If it is, is it the thing to hope for? 

FOR TOMORROW: Read to the end of section 3 in Part V.

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 29, 2020

Today’s pages bring the beginning of the end of the plague. There is no clear reason for the plague’s demise; “one merely had the feeling that the disease had exhausted itself, or perhaps that it was retiring after achieving all of its objectives. In a sense, its role was completed.” Of course our own plague is far from over, but Camus’s description of the townspeople’s impatience with their hope still resonates, as we begin to wrestle with our own impatience and surmise about plans for how to live in the meantime. Our path out of this will not be as simple as that of the folks in Oran; still, one does hope for the day that we might smile in the street.  

FOR TOMORROW: Next 7 pages, to paragraph beginning “The doctor said that the same was true of Tarrou…” 

Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT April 29th 2020

Thank you to everyone who attended our session. We were fortunate to have participants from all across the globe — Germany, Italy, Portugal, UK, India, USA, and Bahrain!

This week, we discussed Marc Chagall’s painting “Paris through the window” (1913) (posted below). Our discussion was dynamic and multi-faceted, with a wonderful amalgamation of  perspectives. Participants spoke of the binaries present in the painting — between reality and fantasy, the waking state and the dream-like, the world outside and inside, the past and future, the dark and light. Others called attention to the vibrant colors, the caricature of the human-faced cat, the upside-down train, the flowers growing forth from the chair, and the two-faced “Janus” figure. We noticed how that figure and the cat were together yet looking elsewhere, and we wondered what the Janus figure was seeing, crowded down in the corner. We also considered the meaning of the horizontal figures. People connected the chaotic, otherworldly nature of the image to our current situation, and we considered the artist’s flight from Russia, as well.

Our prompt was: Write about looking through a window. In response to our prompt, participants spoke about seeing the future through the window as well as gleaning reminders of the past. Participants spoke of imagining people congregating again in groups, offering optimism and hope for our own future. We also heard about the window itself — its form, its movement or lack thereof, and how our perspective can change as we look through it. Other noticed the positioning of the body in experience and space, or spoke of the window as an “incomprehensible other”— something that we find ourselves engaging with more often these days. The responses we heard seemed to be prose, compared to the poetry that has dominated many past sessions.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured. If you chose to draw, your are welcome to share as well, simply email your visual file to and we will add and credit it to the post here.

Please join us for our next session: Friday, May 1st at 7pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Marc Chagall b. 1887, Vitebsk, Russia; d. 1985, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France
Paris through the Window
Oil on canvas
53 9/16 x 55 7/8 inches (136 x 141.9 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, By gift
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 28, 2020

In today’s pages we see a lovely scene of friendship between Rieux and Tarrou; the two go for a moonlit swim together, a moment of joy in the midst of plague. Tarrou explains his philosophy to Rieux – his steadfast striving to not “become a plague victim,” that is, the metaphorical plague of causing death to others through your actions. “‘What is natural is the microbe. The rest – health, integrity, purity, if you like – are an effect of will and a will that should never relax.'” When asked “the road that one should follow to arrive at peace,” Tarrou responds: “‘sympathy.” 

FOR TOMORROW: Next 7 pages, to the end of the paragraph that begins “The population lived in this secret” in the first section of Part V. 

Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT April 27th 2020

Forty-five people (from Canada, Mexico, Morocco, the United Kingdom, and the United States) participated in exploring Jennifer Packer’s  2017 painting: “April, Restless.” The first observations involved the color yellow, its brightness emanating off our screens. One person said yellow is his favorite color; another liked the “daffodil” color of spring, the way the dominant color echoed the flowers in the upper left corner; another said yellow causes feelings of friction

While keen observers took in objects such as a typewriter, a photograph of the Pietà, a clipboard and scissors, pens or brushes, a table that is there/not there, and the casters under the chair that the central figure occupies, the presence of a person seated (some said “like a monument”) and looking directly at the viewer, prompted the most discussion. Is it a self-portrait? Does it represent a man, woman, elderly, young age? Because we began without revealing the artist, title, or medium, and participants were asked to “bring new eyes” and slow-look, differing perspectives emerged from the encounters between what oil-on-canvas was visible on our screens and what each person brought to the painting (the beholder’s share).

Repeatedly people brought questions of identity: what shading and skin tones, markings on the legs, and the shape of the feet in the foreground could tell us.

There were comments on what appeared to be the sitter’s discomfort. Some participants (especially from professions in healthcare) were aware that they tended to “medicalize” the stillness, the posture, the left eye open and the right closed or drooping, the position of both hands, and considered possible diagnoses or illnesses that the sitter may live with. One person saw a writer turned away from her typewriter and unable to continue working. When the facilitators showed the slide with the title “April, Restless” many felt confirmed that what appeared as stiffness and stillness, perhaps immobility, reflected the sitter’s restless wish to move. Our own experiences of limited mobility and prolonged sheltering-in-place, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was also present, and we wondered what we projected onto the painting. NM thrives on these moments of intersubjectivity, when we are able to include ourselves in the knowing and unknowing of a text and others’ points of view.

Our prompt was: “Draw or write about restless April.”

In response to the prompt many participants turned to their April, 2020 and wrote about what they see through the window or walking in nature. Poets, reading aloud what they had written in four minutes, echoed the colors in the painting–not only with forsythia’s bright blooms but also with a robin’s breast, recalling the red spots, on the sitter’s chest, which some viewers had seen as blood and others as red buttons. 

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured. If you chose to draw, your are welcome to share as well, simply email your visual file to and we will add and credit it to the post here.

Please join us for our next session: Wednesday, April 29th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

April, Restless
(2017) Oil on Canvas
48’’ x 36”
 Jennifer Packer

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 27, 2020

Is today’s section the first time in the book where “the plague” is used literally as a metaphor for larger societal ills? Tarrou starts his monologue, telling Rieux about his background and his relationship to his prosecutor father; how Tarrou resisted the condemnation to death of an accused man, then the death penalty in general — “my business was the hole in the chest” — all of this perpetrated by “plague sufferers” who, as I read it, seem to be each of us? I wonder if there is a way to exist, in this view, without being a plague sufferer? As we near the end of the book, the larger allegorical vision is beginning to come more clear…

FOR TOMORROW: Next 7 pages, to, in dialogue, “‘We must go back,'” in section 7 of  Part IV. 

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Special Guest Laura Marris May 3rd on Zoom!

Please join us for our last book club group meeting to discuss Albert Camus’ The Plague on May 3rd. We will be joined by a very special guest, Laura Marris, poet and translator working on a new translation of The Plague, forthcoming from Knopf. She recently published this OpEd,  “Camus’s Inoculation Against Hate,” in The New York Times. We are excited she will join us!


All are welcome to attend the Zoom session, even if you haven’t read along so far! See you Sunday! 

Image Credit: Joan Wong/NY Times

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 25, 2020

More resonances in today’s pages: supplies run low, and speculators jump in to offer “vital necessities” at “huge prices.” The plague, though it kills with “efficient impartiality,” “heightened the feeling of injustice in the hearts of men”: the poor and the rich do not fare equally. The plague settles “comfortably into its peak” but experts warn that “the history of epidemics showed that they could flare up again unexpectedly.” And we visit a stadium, once the home of soccer matches, that has now been taken over, as many public spaces in Oran have, as an isolation facility. The population there is eerily quiet. “Since they could not always be thinking about death, they thought about nothing.” 

 FOR MONDAY: Next 7 pages, to the end of the paragraph that begins “‘In any case, my business was not argument,'” in section 6 of Part IV.

JOIN OUR MEETING TOMORROW AT 2 PM! Visit to register. 

Live Virtual Group Session: 2pm EST April 25th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session! On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we had 52 participants joining from across the United States and many from overseas, including Portugal, Bahrain, Bristol, India, Canada, France, Italy, and Morocco.

Our text was an excerpt from “The House of Broken Angels,” by Luis Alberto Urrea, posted below. We read the excerpt once and discussed how language helps us assimilate and the emotional and intellectual labor involved with assimilation, how culture is an integral part of language, and the many ways that language recreates us.

Our prompt was: “Write about a time language re-created your reality.” The responses were in the shadow of the text, with many sharing their experiences of learning a new language and how difficult that could be, the places one recreates language, and even dreaming in the foreign language one is learning (Français was the predominant second language of the day). The words used were colorful and poignant and reminded us of how powerful language can be.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Monday, April 27th at 6pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Excerpt from The House of the Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

He was temporarily out of words. He, who had taught himself English by memorizing the dictionary. Competing with his estranged father to see who learned newer, stranger, more American words. His father, once a monument of a man, later small and gray and watery-eyed, charming and brutal as ever, but whittled down. Sleeping in Big Angel’s back bedroom for a season—Big Angel ascending to patriarch. Nobody could imagine such things. No Mexicano or gringo.

No way of knowing how language re-created a family. His own children didn’t want to learn Spanish, when he had given everything to learn English. The two men at the kitchen table with cigarettes and coffee and used dictionaries. They captured new words and pinned them like butterflies of every hue. “Aardvark,” “bramble,” “challenge,” “defiance.” One called out a word: “Incompatible.” The other had to define it in less than three minutes. Five points per word. Scores tallied on three-by-five-inch index cards. At the end of each month, a carton of Pall Malls was at stake. If the caller’s accent was too hard to understand, he lost three points. And so, with verbs and nouns, they built their bridge to California.

English exams, followed by paperbacks bought at the liquor store. His favorite gringo phrase at work, which he seldom used at home, was “By golly.” He learned that a mighty lover, in James Bond books, was known as a “swordsman.” He learned from a John Whitlatch action novel that a man with a prostitute for a wife was an “easy rider.” Americans in the ’60s said “easy ice” to bartenders when ordering a cocktail, thus sounding very current and ensuring a bit more liquor in the glass. Big Angel maintained a mental data bank of American secret spells and incantations. Hard-on. Johnny Law. What can I do you for?

Why was he thinking about work? About the past? It was over. It was all over. He was never going to work again. “This second,” his father liked to tell him, “just became the past. As soon as you noticed it, it was already gone. Too bad for you, Son. It’s lost forever.”

(Muy filosófico.)

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st Edition edition (March 6, 2018)

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 24, 2020

In today’s pages we see the conclusion of Paneloux’s second sermon, and then his death following soon after. In his sermon he argues that “there is no middle way” — you cannot accept only certain aspects of the plague, of evil, but rather you “one must believe everything or deny everything.” As Tarrou says: “When innocence has its eyes gouged out, a Christian must lose his faith or accept the gouging out of eyes.” How fascinating, to juxtapose this sermon, so different from his first, with the priest’s death immediately after, a “doubtful case” of the plague. What is Camus doing here, with this death for Panaloux? 

FOR TOMORROW: Read section 5 of Part IV. 

NEXT ZOOM CALL SUNDAY 2pm! Visit to register.