Book Review: ‘The Vulnerables’ by Sigrid Nunez

Pandemic life, parrots, and unexpected connections—a poignant journey through vulnerabilities and hope


Book Title: The Vulnerables
Author: Sigrid Nunez
Publisher: Virago
Number of Pages: 256
ISBN: 978-0349018119
Date Published: Jan. 25, 2024
Price: INR 1,621

The Vulnerables by Sigrid Nunez Book Cover

Book Review

During times of crisis, people find themselves faced with lifestyle changes. One of the earliest and most noticeable changes seen during the COVID-19 lockdown was how we consume media — and especially how we read. Unsurprisingly, lockdown also made re-reading a physical necessity for some. Some respondents noted how they were unable to visit the library or browse at the bookshop for new books. Others reported that they simply wished to save money. On the other hand, the participants who reported re-reading less than normal during the lockdown period wanted to use their newfound time to seek out new topics and genres.

Keeping this in mind, “The Vulnerables” by Sigrid Nunez unfolds a compelling narrative, chronicling the experiences of a writer thrust into the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nunez, known for her keen observations of everyday life, crafts a fascinating tale that captures the quirks and discomforts shared by a diverse set of characters during the unprecedented times of 2020.

Narrated by an unnamed writer, the story begins with the funeral of a friend, leading to unexpected connections and entanglements. The writer finds herself caring for a green parrot named Eureka and sharing an apartment with a respiratory physician who arrives in New York to assist with the rising COVID-19 cases. The narrative takes an intriguing turn when the original parrot and apartment sitter returns, setting the stage for an unlikely friendship that unfolds amidst the challenges of the pandemic.

Nunez’s storytelling prowess shines as she seamlessly weaves together past events, friendships, and the struggles of the present. The novel delves into the vulnerabilities of the characters, emphasizing that, regardless of age, everyone faces moments of fragility. The author skillfully navigates through the grim setting, infusing the narrative with hope and a longing for a return to normalcy. Nunez’s distinctive style, marked by intellectual depth and satisfying prose, elevates the narrative. The collision of characters brought together by chance amid an uncertain spring creates friction that is both reflective and entertaining. The novel goes beyond its premise, offering a profound examination of the stories we tell ourselves, our place in communities, and the meaning of a meaningful life.

While the exploration of writer’s block and literary techniques may not resonate with every reader, Nunez’s ability to capture the absurd details of pandemic life remains engaging. “The Vulnerables” serves as a reminder that even in the toughest days, there is hope for the future, encapsulated in the simplicity of everyday activities like walking outside or visiting the supermarket. Nunez’s distinctive writing style captures the essence of pandemic life, making this novel a compelling and memorable read.

In “The Vulnerables,” Nunez masterfully combines wryness and poignant observation, navigating the complexities of the early days of the pandemic. The novel’s exploration of vulnerabilities during crises and daily life is a testament to Nunez’s storytelling prowess. Through a seemingly simple narrative involving a professor, a healthcare worker, and a macaw named Eureka, the book reflects on the uncertainties and connections that define our lives.

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Reading “The Vulnerables” feels like catching up with an intriguing friend, and listening to mesmerizing stories of life during the pandemic. The author’s wide-ranging interests, from literature to quirky observations, create a rich and thought-provoking experience. The book leaves readers with lingering questions, insightful observations, and a beautiful remnant of a unique moment in time, making it a highly recommended read.

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