While the American South had grown to expect a yellow fever breakout almost annually, the 1878 epidemic was without question the worst ever. Moving up the Mississippi River in the late summer, in the span of just a few months the fever killed more than 18,000 people. The city of Memphis, Tennessee, was particularly hard hit: Of the approximately 20,000 who didn't flee the city, 17,000 contracted the fever, and more than 5,000 died - the equivalent of a million New Yorkers dying in an epidemic today.
Fever Season chronicles the drama in Memphis from the outbreak in August until the disease ran its course in late October. The story that Jeanette Keith uncovered is a profound - and never more relevant - account of how a catastrophe inspired reactions both heroic and cowardly. Some ministers, politicians, and police fled their constituents, while prostitutes and the poor risked their lives to nurse the sick. Using the vivid, anguished accounts and diaries of those who chose to stay and those who were left behind, Fever Season depicts the events of that summer and fall. In its pages we meet people of great courage and compassion, many of whom died for having those virtues. We also learn how a disaster can shape the future of a city.
©2012 Jeanette Keith (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
This is a riveting book. The main character is no one person, but rather the epidemic itself. At a time when there were no antibiotics, no vaccines, no understanding of germ theory, people were helpless in the face of diseases like yellow fever. The city of Memphis had weathered epidemic of yellow fever before, but this, the worst yellow fever epidemic to ever hit the city, changes Memphis both for better and worse forever. The author depicts the city, the people, the time with passion and flair. The writing flows smoothly and the various individuals who are followed through the fever season are interesting and well-depicted.
The audio version is hampered by an unfortunate choice of narrator, who has a high-pitched voice and a light tone and bouncy cadence that make her seem almost gleeful when reciting the suffering and death caused by the epidemic. The book is good enough that it's worth listening to in spite of that, but a better choice of narrator would have improved the audio edition significantly.
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