I seek the truth wherever it lies.
“Things are worse in my books,” Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood recently told 30-something CBC radio interviewer Tom Power via Zoom from her home Toronto, insisting to the producer and his global radio audience worldwide that “we’ll get through this pandemic as we have before.”
Despite being known for her celebrated dystopian novels, Atwood’s outlook on the crisis remains optimistic
Atwood is revered for her speculative fiction, which, for decades, has helped readers understand the world we’re living in and where we may be headed. Now, with the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-20 pandemic, her perspective is even more compelling. In a recent 14-minute chat with Power, she said, among other things, that she doesn’t see our current world health crisis — “The Virus that will be televised” as some pundits have put it — as being all doom and gloom.
“Things are worse in my books,” Atwood said from her home in Toronto where she’s self-isolating with her younger sister, Ruth. “For younger people who have never experienced this, it must seem like the end of the world or something.”
For Atwood, who’s on her 80th orbit around the Sun and good health, her perspective on the global pandemic isn’t unique to her as an author: it’s ”generational.”
“People of my age, in that generation, a lot of people [have previously had to self-isolate at times in our lives],” said Atwood.
“If you grew up at a time when there were a lot of diseases that didn’t have vaccines, you’re used to quarantines. You remember the scarlet fever, the polio, the TB, the measles. What else? Typhoid. Diphtheria. Those kill people,” she said.
“So it’s not that unfamiliar, but for younger people who have never experienced this, it must seem like the end of the world or something.”
Atwood said she recalls her own parents talking to her about the deadly so-called ”Spanish flu” pandemic, which spread throughout the world from 1918 to 1920, and affected an estimated 500 million people.
“My mum’s entire family had it in 1919. Her dad was a country doctor in Nova Scotia and she said the whole family had it: five kids, two parents,” Atwood told Power. “They all survived, but a lot of it is luck.”
”It has been done. It can be done.”
While there’s been a lot of speculation about what the world will look like after the pandemic is over, Atwood hopes we’ll rethink the status quo — for instance, where our essential supplies are manufactured.
The USA government recently ordered the medical device manufacturer 3M to sever the critical supply chain of U.S.-made N95 masks to Canada until a deal was finally finalized to ship millions of masks north of the border.
“Is it really a good idea to have essential supplies made in another country?” asked Atwood. “Do we have enough basics? Do we have enough essential food? How long can we hold out?”
“This again is pretty familiar to people who went through World War II because there was rationing and there was a way of distributing goods so that people couldn’t hoard. Is that coming down the pike towards us? Not yet, I wouldn’t think, but just remember, it has been done. It can be done.”
When it comes to how Canadians are and have been responding to the pandemic, Atwood says she thinks we’re “being quite aware.”
“You will notice a great rise in the appreciation for health-care workers. They’re very much on the frontlines and I think we’ve tended to just take it for granted, our health-care system. But I don’t think we’re taking it for granted anymore.”
As for how she’s occupying herself in quarantine, Atwood says she’s been writing, gardening and baking bread.
“I don’t think of it as a dark time,” she said. “Writers are isolated most of the time anyway. So it’s not that much of a change for me.”
When this blogger sent a brief six-word message to Atwood by email, wishing her a Happy Easter and a Happy Passover 2020, adding a note at the end to ‘Stay Safe!” and mentioning the legendary ”10 plagues” recounted every year during the family Seder, Atwood who is not Jewish but grew up with Jewish people in Toronto and at graduate school at Harvard and knows more about the culture than most people, didn’t miss a beat in her reply and with her trademark humor quipped: “No frogs yet. You too…”