In this piercing and unforgettable memoir, the award-winning poet reflects on a year of turbulence, fear, and hope.
For acclaimed British-Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar, 2020 was a year of personal and global crisis. The world around him was shattered by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the United States, California burned, and D’Aguiar was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Year of Plagues is an intimate, multifaceted exploration of these seismic events. Combining personal reminiscence and philosophy, D’Aguiar confronts profound questions about the purpose of pursuing a life of writing and teaching in the face of overwhelming upheavals; the imaginative and artistic strategies a writer can bring to bear as his sense of self and community are severely tested; and the quest for strength and solace necessary to help forge a better future. Drawn from two cultural perspectives—his Caribbean upbringing and his American lifestyle—D’Aguiar’s beautiful and challenging memoir is a paean of resistance to despotic authority and life-threatening disease.
In his first work of nonfiction, D’Aguiar subverts the traditional memoir with highly charged language that shifts from the lyrical to the quotidian, from the metaphysical to the personal. While his experience could not be darker, its rendering is tinged with light and joy, captured in prose that unfolds in wonderful, unexpected ways. Both tender and ferocious, Year of Plagues is a harrowing yet uplifting genre-bending memoir of existence, protest, and survival.
About the Author
Poet, novelist and playwright, Fred D’Aguiar was born in London to Guyanese parents. He grew up in Guyana, returning to England in his teens. He trained as a psychiatric nurse before reading English with African and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury. He is the author of five novels, including, Children of Paradise, about Jonestown, Guyana. His first novel, The Longest Memory (Pantheon, 1994), won both the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. His eight poetry book and most recent, Letters to America is a UK, Poetry Book Society Choice. His numerous plays have been staged in the UK and broadcast on BBC radio. He was awarded the Guyana Prize in Fiction and in Poetry and was Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Cambridge University. He has lived in the US since the 1990s and taught at Amherst College, University of Miami and Virginia Tech. Currently he is Professor of English at University of California Los Angeles.
"This makes the fragility of life devastatingly palpable."
— Publishers Weekly
"An unflinching narrative and a remarkable read...D’Aguiar offers keen and candid insights into the complexities of the human condition in the here and now."
"A visceral account of personal illness and social ills."
— Kirkus Reviews
"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."
— Library Journal
“Fred D'Aguiar is in possession of one of the most agile literary voices I've encountered, at turns playful, lyrical, philosophical, and always moving. Year of Plagues is about undeniably harrowing experiences - both personal and political, endemic and pandemic - and yet the experience of reading it is dazzling, provoking, and ultimately enlightening. I couldn't put it down.”
— Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
“Exquisite, Orphic, filled with dark music, Year of Plagues sings the body nuclear. This unflinching memoir weaves history, race, culture, art, fear, and love into an unforgettable journey. As much about poetry as it is about infirmity, Fred D’Aguiar’s conversation with cancer resounds in a bounding, graceful dance with death and life.”
— Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Life Without a Recipe
“Sophisticated, funny, far-ranging... Fred D’Aguiar interrogates intersectionality in a time of crisis, personal, national, global and human, to find moments of grace. Nimbly contending with cancer, the pandemic, micro and macro implications of the Black Lives Matter movement, Year of Plagues manages to wring moments of illumination and reasons to hope out of this terrifying time.”
— Mona Simpson, author of Casebook
"Fred D’Aguiar’s brilliant Year of Plagues is harrowing yet exhilarating, secular yet spiritual, scientific yet lyrical—a devastatingly frank memoir about wrestling with deadly prostate cancer even as the coronavirus began to overwhelm life as we knew it. Augustinian in its clarity and honesty, Year of Plagues offers the reader a meditation on mortality, race, faith, and fatherhood, even as it explores with great humanity what it means to be an artist in a world deep-shadowed by illness. Masterful, inspiring, essential, this book is a must-read."
— Bradford Morrow, author of The Forger's Daughter
"Year of Plagues is a study of the body beset by the twin enemies of disease and racism. Wryly confronting death in all manners with precision and historical perspective, D’Aguiar is the perfect guide to the unprecedented events of 2020 - thoughtful, curious, erudite - a prophet of our times. This is an essential book to understanding the mysteries of the human self and the world today."
— Zinzi Clemmons, author of What We Lose