(written by Bernice)
The sentiments of isolation in Albert Camus’ The Plague, especially in the beginning of part 2, reminded me of similar sentiments in Berlin in the early 1960’s when the wall was erected through houses and communities to separate East and West Berlin. Though parts of Germany were contested and divided between the American, British, French, Soviet troops after World War II Berlin remained fairly borderless and East Germans could cross to West Germany/Berlin relatively freely. However, this caused brain drain in Eastern Germany, prompting them to build a wall to prevent Eastern Germans from moving to the more liberal West Germany.
Like in Oran, families were unexpectedly split, and communities that once co-existed despite being at the border of West/East Germany were demarcated by an impenetrable wall. Similar to Oran, loved ones were torn apart and communication ran scarce and dangerous. Though the separation causes are different, this overarching theme of uncontrollable big events causing individual collateral damages runs through not only for Berlin and Oran, but through other parts of history. I write about this because the fall of the Berlin Wall celebrates its 30th year today (Nov 9), and 30 years later such separation and isolation of human beings still occur, as evident in contemporary political issues of family separations at the U.S. border. In reflecting on this, I wonder how we can humanize such grand occurrences? It’s books like Camus that localise such sentiments to a particular socio-cultural context, and allows readers to resonate more with specific stories of love, loss, and separation. New forms of media such as this now function as more contemporary ways to memorialize the individuality of such events. While these remediations of reality capture the nuance of human emotion and experience during such historical events, and allow us to ponder on the complexities of human experience especially under such circumstances.