“An intimate, surprisingly gentle vision of post-disaster humanity, less concerned with how we might survive than with why — and for whom.”
— Alix E. Harrow, Hugo Award-winning author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January
“An intensely human story about people reaching out through trauma and loss and discovering who and what to hold on to after the end of the world. Gripping, poignant, hopeful, and heartfelt.”
— H.G. Parry, author of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep
“Chen has a true gift for making the biggest of worlds center around the most complex workings of hearts, and his newest is compelling, realistic, and impossible to put down.”
— Booklist, starred review
Mike Chen’s new novel, A Beginning at the End (Mira Books), would have been an exciting release at any time, but it’s especially intriguing now. After all, the book chronicles a post-apocalyptic society in recovery six years after a devastating pandemic ravages the globe.
While some readers might worry that picking up a book about a post-pandemic America in the midst of the current COVID-19 crises would feel too relatable, and perhaps even disturbing, the beauty of Chen’s novel is that it doesn’t dwell in the darkness. Though it’s set in the wake of enormous tragedy, it’s ultimately a story about hope, resilience and family — both the one you’re born into and the one you choose for yourself.
FLU-LIKE VIRUS SWEEPS ACROSS THE WORLD
The novel opens onstage at Madison Square Garden, where teenage pop sensation MoJo is in the middle of a performance when the news of an impending national quarantine sends the entire stadium into a frenzy. A flu-like virus, known as MSG, is sweeping across the world, and New York City descends into chaos. MoJo takes advantage of the opportunity to escape her overbearing, emotionally abusive father and create a new identity for herself.
The book picks up six years later, in 2025, after 70 percent of the American population has been killed by MSG. The scene feels eerily familiar to readers in 2020: the ceilings contain sanitizing aerosol sprays and germ-killing UV lights, and people are encouraged to wear breathing masks in crowds.
Cities attempt to rebuild as self-contained urban “Metros,” separated from “Reclaimed Territory” communes where residents grow their own food and live off the land. Large stretches of abandoned ghost towns and industrial wasteland have been overtaken by warring gangs. Many Americans suffer from “Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder,” which special support groups have been formed to help address.
ENDURING POWER OF COMMUNITY AMIDST CRISIS
We meet our group of protagonists in the San Francisco Metro: Rob, who is left alone to care for his young daughter Sunny after losing his wife Elena during the outbreak; Moira, who is hiding the truth about her past as the child star MoJo; and Krista, an event planner running away from her own childhood demons. The lives of these three characters unexpectedly converge at a particularly perilous time, when rumors of a new, mutated MSG strain threaten to spark a second wave of mass panic.
Certainly, many scenes will resonate with current readers — one scientist even tells Rob, Moira and Krista the same words that many Americans would do well to hear now: “Our world needs everyone to know, to step up right now. Complacency isn’t an option.”
But the novel isn’t just about a pandemic. It’s an exciting and dramatic tale about a group of strangers, each of whom is trying to escape the pain of their individual pasts, who find themselves suddenly reliant upon each other for help. And that is where the story may even prove cathartic for those of us suffering through a similarly frightening moment in time.
Though Rob, Moira and Krista share no relation — at first, they’re hardly even friends — the challenging circumstances of their lives bring them together in a way that shows the enduring power of hope and community amidst a crisis. As Moira tells Rob, “I think we’re all family these days.”
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