2020: A Reckoning by Eric Klinenberg - review by Mark Honigsbaum

Mark Honigsbaum

Journal of the Plague Year

2020: A Reckoning


The Bodley Head 464pp £25

In the spring of 2020, New York briefly found itself at the centre of the biggest plague to visit the world in more than a century. The coronavirus ripped through the city’s crowded tower blocks, and hospital emergency rooms were filled with desperately ill patients. Ironically, no neighbourhood was worse affected than Corona in Queens. 

By the second week of April, the Covid-19 mortality rate in Corona was 85 per 100,000 residents, more than twice the city average. At Elmhurst Hospital, one of the oldest municipal infirmaries in New York, the morgue was soon overflowing, prompting managers to summon refrigerated trucks to store the bodies. For Linda Dutan, one of several eyewitnesses interviewed by the sociologist Eric Klinenberg in his remarkable new book about the terrible first year of Covid-19, ‘you could hear ambulances coming, like, every hour. It was just one after the other after the other.’

While Dutan’s grandparents and other members of her extended Ecuadorian family hunkered down at her home in Corona, Dutan, an aspiring photographer, decided to document the apocalyptic scenes outside. In Manhattan, shops and restaurants were shuttered and the wide avenues were deserted, but at Corona’s main transport and shopping hub, Dutan found long lines outside the pharmacy and cheque-cashing service. The busiest place of all was the Dominican-run neighbourhood bodega. ‘Everyone talks here,’ explained Dutan. ‘We don’t all know each other, but we know each other’s faces.’

There is little mystery why the mortality rate in Corona was so high. Like other low-income neighbourhoods of New York, Corona is ethnically diverse and its residents are predominantly working class. Together with the adjacent Jackson Heights district, it is the most densely populated area of the city, with more

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