It took me a year to write the description for this book, because I had to digest it and then wait a bit longer – after all, how to write a dystopian book with a pandemic as its main plot in the middle of a global pandemic? Severance by Ling Ma drew me in from the first page; the more nervous I became about what might happen in the rest of the book, the more I couldn’t put it down.
It is worth noting that Severance was not inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic – the book was published in 2018. New York, a pandemic of a new disease, which broke out in China (!). An incurable disease that damages the nervous system. The only hope is that you belong to the minority that is immune to the fever called “Shen”.
Candace, the main character, is one of the last people to leave New York. Between the descriptions of the worsening pandemic, we learn about her life – about trying to find herself, about looking for a job, about coming to terms with how the world really works. On one hand, it is a story about a pandemic and one of many dystopian visions of the end of the world, on the other – a metaphor of late capitalism seen through the eyes of millennials. Through Candace’s eyes you see the fate many immigrant families and see how New York, together with the entire capitalist world, devours the people living in it.
Therefore, if your way to cope with pandemic stress is watching apocalyptic movies, I recommend Ling Ma’s book with a clear conscience. However, if you know that it will cause you nightmares, then better leave it be. For me, it was a great escape, even if claustrophobic, suffocating and mesmerizing.