Station Eleven Book Review


In Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the Georgia Flu wipes out most of the population, and civilization is destroyed. Anyone who survives is left to find their own way in the new, cruel world. Mandel portrays the grimness of living in such a world. However, she also sends an optimistic message: people will pursue goodness even in the most difficult of circumstances. All is not lost.

Every character in the post-flu world holds onto the past in some way. Kirsten, a child at the beginning of the flu, collects pieces of celebrity magazines. Her most prized possession, however, is a small, post-apocalyptic comic book titled Station Eleven. Mandel uses this as a parallel of the pandemic world. The main character, stranded on a spaceship, reflects: “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.” Every character in Mandel’s novel faces this challenge. However, they are also able to discover new joys. Kirsten joins a group (the Traveling Symphony) and makes invaluable friendships. She teaches us that even when we lose everything, we can start anew: that not everything in the world is bad.

Another character, Clark, also collects pieces of the old world. He “had always been fond of beautiful objects, and in his present state of mind all objects were beautiful.” He stares at his collection, imagining “the human enterprise each object had required.” This is one of the major themes of this book: Humanity is built on cooperation and the pursuit of beauty. When it is nearly destroyed, this fact remains, and the people left try to rebuild this beauty together.

Station Eleven’s popularity skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. People understood the plight of the character of this book (which was written in 2014) and needed the comfort of knowing that not all is lost. Even when civilization crumbles, people remain. What is humanity if not people trying to create a better world? Emily St. John Mandel, almost prophetic, created the perfect example of this. Her stunning writing embodied hope, improvement, the determination to survive, and to live well after. The Traveling Symphony’s motto, taken from an episode of Star Trek, shapes Mandel’s world and speaks to the masses: “Survival is insufficient.”