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Albert Camus' 'Plague' novel goes big in Japan thanks to coronavirus

The cover of the Japanese edition of "The Plague" by Albert Camus is seen in this image provided by the publisher, Shinchosha.

OSAKA -- An unlikely addition to the paper products flying off shelves across Japan has emerged amid the coronavirus' spread: the translation of French writer Albert Camus' 1947 novel, "The Plague."

Japan's bookstores are struggling to meet demand for the book written by the Nobel Prize-winning Camus (1913-1960). The novel describes a group of people living in a sealed-off city as it struggles with a pathogen. Its scenes depicting politicians taking belated measures to prevent its spread appear to be offering parallels for readers in Japan today.

During World War II, Camus wrote anti-war articles and other pieces as a journalist, and debuted as a novelist with "The Stranger" in 1942. He continued to write about war, disease and other subjects in an absurdist style which challenged such concepts in a way that logical and religious arguments could not.

"The Plague" is set in the city of Oran in what is now northwestern Algeria. After a highly lethal infectious disease breaks out, the city is placed on lockdown. It portrays citizens being split from those they love, and isolated people facing down an invisible enemy.

The novel's protagonist, Dr. Rieux, responds to the conduct of bureaucrats who are reluctant to take precautionary measures against the viral outbreak, by saying it is no time to be behaving as if there is no risk of the entire populace dying. It also contains tense scenes of living under the threat of infection.

According to Shinchosha, the book's Japanese publisher, orders started coming in fast from booksellers across the country once the coronavirus began spreading domestically in February. Orders are apparently up by seven to eight times their usual number, and the publisher has decided to print an additional 4,000 copies to try to meet demand.

A representative said, "Some shops have ordered tens of copies. It's clearly been influenced by the coronavirus."

(Japanese original by Masaki Ishikawa, Osaka City News Department)

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