Rating: 3/5 stars
In the Company of Men is a dark love letter to humanity revolving around the Ebola epidemic of 2014 to 2016. The novel focuses on the stories of people affected by the virus; some are ill with it themselves while others watch from the sidelines as their loved ones battle through. We hear from two boys who get the virus after killing and eating a wild bat, a doctor taking care of patients, a daughter being sent away from her infected family, and more. With these perspectives as the backdrop of her novel, Tadjo paints a full picture of how widespread the impact of the virus was and how deeply it affected humanity. She is intentional about each character she includes as each viewpoint offers different ideas on how humans work and what our place is in the world.
One of the larger points she makes is that by design, human beings are limited. In many of the stories, the humans like to act as though they are invincible. We see this through people finding hope in times of despair or wanting to remain by a loved one’s side despite orders to quarantine the sick. No matter what it is, each person’s story blends into a beautiful commentary on the imperfection that is the human experience.
I found it very telling that Tadjo intentionally left names out of the stories we read. While this may be an effort to maintain anonymity, I would like to believe this is her attempt to comment on the randomness of an epidemic. When it comes to infection, viruses aren’t hand picking who lives and who dies. The name of the host doesn’t matter because the only purpose of a virus is to exist. This point is raised by the only non-human narrators throughout the novel: the Baobab tree and the bat. By including these perspectives, Tadjo humorously speaks to one of our biggest weaknesses as a race: we humans are seldom able to see us outside of ourselves and our own perspective.
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