The Fervor by Alma Katsu

Cover of The Fervor with a red sash behind it.

I planned on reading this as soon as I got it, since I really enjoy Katsu’s books, but I figured it would be a while before I got the review up.  I recently did my review of The Hunger and I still have a few more books lined up that I read over the past couple of months.  But I started reading The Fervor on Thursday and then the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe dropped on Friday.  By the time I finished The Fervor over the weekend, it seemed like this was the review to do for this week.

The Fervor takes place across several locations across the Northwest U.S. in 1944, including one of the internment camps where the U.S. imprisoned all Japanese and Japanese-American residents of the West Coast. This was based on the pretext that there may have been spies and fifth columnists hiding in the population.  It was, if you’ll excuse the academic jargon, bullshit. 

The government had no evidence of “disloyalty” when Franklin Roosevelt signed the executive order, they didn’t find any evidence throughout the course of the war, and no evidence emerged afterwards.  The push to round up and get rid of population stemmed from good ol’ American racism.  Whites in the west had their eyes on Japanese/Japanese-American-owned farms, land, and businesses and wanted everyone of Japanese descent out of there.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 halted any immigration from China, but the anti-Japanese movement had been unable to get a similar Japanese Exclusion Act to pass. They got around that with the 1924 Immigration Act, which barred immigration of people belonging to a nationality prohibited from becoming a naturalized citizen. Since American immigration laws dating back to George Washington barred anyone deemed “not white” from becoming naturalized citizens, that effectively excluded Japanese immigrants. Still, it didn’t do anything to get rid of those of Japanese descent who were already in the country or provide a way for white Americans to take their land. The hysteria after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, did.   

Anyway, back to The Fervor.  (I would like credit, though, for not continuing to write out my lectures on race, immigration, and internment – once a history professor, always a history professor.) We’re initially introduced to Archie and his wife, Elsie.  Archie is a white pastor in a small town in Oregon who seems to have an ideal life – beautiful wife, baby on the way, a good job, a good home, heading up to the mountains for vacation. Yet his past haunts him and a vision of woman in a red kimono suggests it may be catching up with him… 

Meanwhile, at Camp Minidoka in a remote part of Idaho, Meiko Briggs worries about her daughter, Aiko, while walking her to the internment camp’s school.  Aiko is a bit of an outcast among the other children – she’s half white (her father is a U.S. fighter pilot in the Pacific) and on top of that, Aiko is a very talented artist who draws many of the ghosts, spirits, and demons of Japanese folklore, whom she sees in the camp.  Meiko is concerned about all of this and about how growing up in a prison camp is going to affect Aiko. The more immediate threat, however, is a strange disease burning through the camp, turning formerly peaceful people into violent murderers. And now there are more American officials turning up, strange trucks, and disappearances…

Finally, out in Nebraska, reporter Fran Gurstwold witnesses a mysterious explosion in the night sky while at a remote cabin with her editor, with whom she is having an affair.  They walk through the darkness and discover thin sheets of a papery substance, which she at least is smart enough not to touch barehanded.  Her journalist instincts are telling her she’s on to a big story, one that might pull her out of the usual “women’s news.” Despite her increasingly agitated editor’s admonishments, she starts hunting for clues, tips, and connections to other mysterious flashes, leading her out of Nebraska and towards Oregon and Idaho…

As I’ve mentioned previously, I really enjoy Katsu’s writing.  The Fervor is a bit different from her other two books.  While there is still a spiritual/otherworldly element to this tale, it is much more grounded in reality.  Katsu’s in-laws were interned at Minidoka during the war and she draws on their experiences, as well as her own background and family history.  The illness aspect also ties closely to the rise of racist attacks against Asian-Americans due to Covid and false, racist claims regarding China.  While the demons Aiko sees create all sorts of fear, the real horror is watching how easily people can succumb to their worst instincts, while seeing themselves as heroes.  Even when people know what they’re seeing and doing is wrong, it is so easy to slip into justifications and rationalizations. 

The story of internment is also a reminder of how fragile many of our basic rights are, a lesson those who had the privilege to forget are learning again. Most of those interned, like Aiko, were American citizens, born and raised in the United States. They had basic constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure, unlawful detainment, etc. When Fred Korematus challenged his imprisonment, the Supreme Court ruled in Korematsu vs. United States that military strategic concerns were enough to justify stripping Americans of their rights.  The Court claimed it was not based on racial prejudice, even though it only applied to Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast (where racial bias against Asians was highest) and there was no similar action against German or Italian Americans. 

But The Fervor also reminds us that individuals can still make a difference. It’s hard not to feel completely overwhelmed at times or that there’s no way one person can make any kind of difference. And yet it’s still imperative to try. 

So overall, The Fervor is another great work of weaving historical fact with otherworldly tones like The Hunger and The Deep.  Though the otherworldly aspect is a bit less in this book, the horrifying nature of the reality keeps you wondering who will survive and how, and maybe get you thinking about what you would do in a similar situation.

Find it online here


Nothing major, just something funny I wanted to share- I don’t think it will totally destroy the book for you, but it might and I don’t want to risk anyone being upset because they wanted to make connections for themselves and now I’m just rambling in a very long, run-on sentence that is going to kill my “readability” statistics, which already don’t like me because I am too verbose and use too many words and don’t use any headers, but I think you, the reader, can handle it, and is this long enough now for you to have backed out if you decided you didn’t want any kind of potential, possible, hint of a spoiler? Also, this probably will make more sense once you’ve actually read the book, so maybe go read it first and then come back for this last line, unless you’ve already read it, in which case, proceed.

Last chance.

Ok, anyway, I finished reading this book and went running two days later, where I ended up running face first into a spider web. Then two days after that, I got sick. Hmmmm….