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So many authors boldly claimed they were going to use their time spent in COVID-19 lockdowns quarantine to write a book—and well, Zadie Smith actually did it. Her slim collection of essays captures this peculiar moment with startling clarity. She focuses on how the coronavirus has amplified the social divides that already existed in her life, and in the country as a whole. The people she found commonality with in New York City—like the massage therapist with a child around her son’s age with whom she used to chat about public school closures—suddenly feel more distant since the pandemic has imperiled their economic security but not her own. She extrapolates larger lessons from these daily observations, pointing out, for example, that the map of New York’s boroughs where the virus was most widespread overlayed precisely with the map of the least wealthy neighborhoods with the worst school test scores. She argues the rich avoided poverty like the plague, refusing to seat their children alongside poor children long before an actual plague hit the city: “Death comes to all—but in America it has long been considered reasonable to offer the best chance of delay to the highest bidder,” she writes. The personal and political intermingle for a powerful indictment of America’s social systems.

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