Year of Plagues: A Memoir of 2020

Harper. Aug. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780063091535. $26.99. MEMOIR
Ominous symptoms led D’Aguiar (English and creative writing, Univ. of California Los Angeles; Children of Paradise) to the health care system for answers; he was soon diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer just as the COVID-19 pandemic began, which would impact his testing and treatment. As one means of navigating his unexpected circumstances, D’Aguiar wrote this memoir, using the tools of his many careers (novelist, poet, playwright, professor). Here he describes in detail his symptoms, diagnostic tests, and treatments, including surgery and its aftermath, and shares his thoughts, fears, mood swings, and coping strategies. Along the way, D’Aguiar meditates on his early life and familial influences in Guyana and England. He personifies his cancer and converses with it as a sentient foe; he places his illness in the context of the culture of his Guyanese family and calls on poetry, philosophy, music, pop culture, and literature, from Brer Rabbit to Shakespeare. While D’Aguiar recovered from surgery in spring 2020, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police; the events compel D’Aguiar to contemplate anew his own identity as a Black man and his role in a complex society.
VERDICT D’Aguiar’s memoir is intensely personal and candid, technically informative, and, as a result of its range and inviting style, far from morbid or dry.
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