“At times the downtown area where I live appears to be a war zone. It’s abandoned, shuttered. No one is out walking. Those people I see occasionally are wearing masks. They walk with their heads down, as if they’re in some other world, far from the sight of all they’ve lost. It’s an unemotional scene because masks hide our facial expressions. Indoors we all move in the same directions, following arrows on floors and signs on doors.”
—Robert Cubby, retired Jersey City police captain
CORONA CITY: Voices from an Epicenter is a collection of first-person stories and photographs from life in New York and New Jersey during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Editor Lorraine Ash was inspired to compile the book after hosting a writing workshop over Zoom where “people could share experiences and bear witness wherever they were—on breadlines, front lines, or unemployment lines, in sickbeds, or at home, anywhere.” The stories in CORONA CITY comprise a broad range of voices, from EMTs, nurses, and other frontline healthcare workers, to business owners, journalists, and many other ordinary people struggling to survive and make sense of, to use a phrase that would quickly become a COVID era cliche, “this unprecedented time.”
Some of the most compelling accounts come from the very beginning of the pandemic, around March 2020, when the reality began to sink in among Americans that the coronavirus was more than just another exotic virus like Ebola that would quickly be contained. Healthcare workers, of course, were the first to see—and experience—the first wave of infections. One chilling story describes an allergy/immunology nurse’s day-by-day experience with COVID: “I spend an hour staring at the wall, practicing deep, slow breathing while clutching my necklace that stores my only sister’s ashes. I make the decision then and there that my parents will not go to a hospital and pick up another dead child with tubes down her throat.”
Perhaps the most broadly relatable stories in CORONA CITY capture the uncertainty, paranoia, and social awkwardness of shopping and working during the weeks when the coronavirus, and how it was transmitted, was not yet well understood. People in supermarkets eyeing each other suspiciously behind homemade masks. Neighbors engaging in hesitant conversations, often for the first time. And later, as the weeks of quarantining dragged on, the quietly devastating effects of prolonged social isolation, especially for older people living alone or those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Not all of the memories in CORONA CITY are sorrowful—”we’re going through a wonderful time,” one person writes, “a hiatus from the hustle and bustle and responsibilities of everyday life…you can stay in your pajamas all day.” Another writes of planning and executing elaborate meals (“Why not eat foods we’d sworn off of pre-pandemic when we thought we’d live longer if we ate ‘right’?”)
The audiobook version beautifully conveys the collection’s personal stories, featuring clear, articulate, and emotive narration, and is perhaps the best way to experience the book. With 100% of the book’s sales benefiting Feeding America, a nationwide network of over two hundred food banks, CORONA CITY is not just an essential record of an important historical event, but a book dedicated to helping the millions of Americans still suffering from the impact of COVID.
Edited by Lorraine Ash, CORONA CITY: Voices from an Epicenter is an intimate, deeply affecting time capsule of the early pandemic that is likely to become even more emotionally resonant in the coming years, as people’s memories of the experience begin to fade.
~Edward Sung for IndieReader