In The Fervor Alma Katsu blends lesser-known World War II history with Japanese folklore and the horror of racism. This relatively short book introduces Meiko and her young daughter Aiko. Meiko came to Seattle as part of an arranged marriage to another Japanese immigrant. Things didn’t happen as planned, most importantly the post-Pearl Harbor internment of residents of Japanese descent living in the Western US.
Now, in 1944, the internment camps are dealing with a contagious epidemic of unknown origin. The contagion isn’t limited to just the prisoners but spreads to guards. It’s even found in a few communities farther away from the camps. Katsu also follows Fran, a female reporter who survives an exposure and decides to investigate further. And then there’s Archie, a minister, who doesn’t fare so well when exposed.
Alternating between the four perspectives, Katsu builds a tale that feels like walking through a spider web. I just can’t shake The Fervor off. Little bits are going to cling to me for a long time.
The Fervor is focused more on the plot than on a character study. Meiko, Aiko, Fran, and Archie are all focused on one simple goal—survival. To do that, they must accomplish what medicine, science, and government somehow can’t. And that’s to figure out the source of and solution to the contagion.
Katsu’s writing is atmospheric. She builds fear and fright while also questioning truth versus lies. Things happen that feel hallucinogenic to her characters, who then question their sanity. At the same time, she explores the highly relevant idea of groupthink and zealous racism.
The irony of basing the plot around an outbreak in a prison where everyone simply wants to break out and go home isn’t lost on me. Katsu paints these feelings with a broad brush, using Meiko’s adult perspective and Aiko’s more fanciful childish one. And this contrasts with Fran, whose stuck in the prison of the 1940s sexism that also restricts her life and career options.
It’s no surprise that the author chose to call the contagion a “fervor.” The word is so close to fever, with its prickly heat and vicious dreams. Fervor also describes brainwashing or mob mentality, so common in both violence and religion, which play a part here. As a result, there’s plenty of deeper meaning to unpack.
The Fervor is perfect for readers of historical fiction. Its undercurrents of horror, both human and supernatural, add a twist that hits all too close to home.
Pair with another unique Japanese thriller, Out by Natsuo Kirino. Or read more about the internment camps in George Takei’s excellent graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy.
Many thanks to NetGalley, PENGUIN GROUP Putnam, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. The Fervor debuts on April 26, 2022.