After reading Véronique Tadjo’s In the Company of Men , we can at least acknowledge that the symptoms of covid-19, though horrific and too often deadly, are not as vicious, excruciating, and lethal as those of Ebola ... carefully and comprehensively detailed in Tadjo’s deeply affecting chronicle, which incorporates real-life testimony and fictional voices, including those of victims, caregivers, a village baobab tree, the bats who spread the virus to humans, and even Ebola itself ... The most disquieting aspect of the novel is not the detailed descriptions of the grisly effects of the virus on the body, but rather the author’s assertion that humans and Ebola have a lot more in common than we higher life forms would like to admit.
The book’s twin emphases—the notion that nature is important, and the idea that people should understand the world as a unit, its pieces together in every fight—are handled in both realistic and magical manners. In the Company of Men is graphic in detailing a relevant historical moment, while also devoting emotion and attention to those who dealt with Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
I was captivated by the book’s multiple points of view, though I may have approached the work more like a collection of stories than a novel. Each chapter presented a different account of the Ebola outbreak, so the chapters felt more like varying personal stories, occurring simultaneously in a time of ceaseless crisis. Formally, I found the mythos of the trees centered and grounded the true-to-life narrative work in and beyond pure fiction. Indeed, the mythical turn creates a stake in poetics ... The essayistic voice of each account is quite poetic ... the sentence-level overturning of words all in all shows a commitment to language and interest in repetition; the recurring sentence patterns mimic how thoughts overturn in the mind and shift to progress a beating heart forward ... Tadjo’s book...weaves poetry and music into the everyday experiences of healthcare workers, so its soul is rich.