Face masks, hoarding, social distancing—it all happened before … in Saleema Nawaz's mind. The Montreal author devoted six years of her life to a novel that looks a lot like our life with the coronavirus, the Globe & Mail reports. If this sounds exaggerated, consider that Songs for the End of the World is about a 2020 pandemic that starts in China, surges through New York, and infects thousands of people. Anti-Asian hate crimes and food deliveries are up, N95 masks and ventilators are scarce, and anyone entering a hospital has to get their temperature checked. There's even a prescient book about plagues that becomes a bestseller because of the outbreak. "It has felt very surreal and a little bit unnerving," says Nawaz of her incredible foresight.
How did she do it? Nawaz says she studied earlier outbreaks, mitigation plans, and people's behavior during crises. "I wanted to write a realistic novel about a pandemic that explores those ideas we have from disaster movies—postapocalyptic ideas of societal breakdown in a crisis—while still following my instincts about how people would for the most part behave with goodwill and social responsibility," she says. Will there now be accusations of opportunism, with McClelland & Stewart bumping up the e-book release date from August to Tuesday? "I think it's a hopeful book," Nawaz tells the Montreal Gazette. "If people read the book, it's hard to believe that they'll think it's some kind of commercial cash-in." (The world's most famous horror writer also chronicled a pandemic.)