Pandemic Flu, Thrity Umrigar, and Jeff Sharlet

Jeff Sharlet
Jeff Sharlet
Thrity Umrigar
Thrity Umrigar

We talk with writer Howard Friel and Dr. Harvey Lederman in this rebroadcast of a 2006 interview about avian flu. Also, Thrity Umrigar on her new novel, THE WEIGHT OF HEAVEN. And Jeff Sharlet talks about the crusade for a Christian military.

The H1N1 flu is sweeping the globe. Although fears about its virulence have eased somewhat, we almost certainly will face a serious pandemic flu sometime: if not now, then in the future. In the current pandemic there has so far been only one fatality outside Mexico—where originally more than 100 deaths were attributed to the virus, but the toll is now down considerably. The last time flu was much in the news was in 2006, with the avian, or H5N1 virus. More people died, but it didn’t become a pandemic. That’s because the H5N1 avian flu is hard to transmit between people–at least so far. But the New York Times reports that might be changing–and cases of avian flu continue tare surging–and the fatality rate is high.

In 2006 I interviewed Howard Friel and primary care doctor Dr. Harvey Lederman about H5N1.  Friel has written several closely researched books on international affairs, including THE RECORD OF THE PAPER. In 2006, he wanted to find a way to protect his family in the case of a pandemic flu. So he turned his prodigious research talents to developing a formula for an herbal supplement designed to boost resistance to the virus. Then he teamed up with Dr. Lederman to write a medical paper about it, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Medical Hypotheses.

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In her work, novelist Thrity Umrigar examines the chasms that can divide humans, like culture, class, and gender. Umrigar grew up in India and came to the U.S. when she was 21, so she knows intimately the experience of straddling cultures and divides.  Her latest novel is THE WEIGHT OF HEAVEN. It’s the story of a liberal American couple, Frank and Ellie Benton, who are struggling to deal with the death of their seven year old son. The tragedy came on them suddenly: they boy was well one day, and dead from a galloping infection the next. They move from their home in the U.S. to Girbaug, a town in India, as a way to try and put the past behind them. But it doesn’t work because the couple bring not only their personal grief along as baggage, but also their cultural assumptions, as well.

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Thrity Umrigar is also the author of the novels BOMBAT TIME, THE SPACE BETWEEN US, and IF TODAY BE SWEET and the memoir, FIRST DARLING OF THE MORNING.

Jeff Sharlet’s journalistic beat is the inroads the Christian Right is making into the established instititions that govern our society. We’ve talked to him several times on Writers Voice–first about his book, THE FAMILY, which is about the elite Christian fundamentalists who have penetrated deeply into the highest levels of government. His latest article is about how Christian extremists are embedding firmly into the highest ranks of the military. It’s called “Jesus Killed Mohammed: the Crusade for a Christian military”. It’s just out in the May issue of Harper’s.

Listen to the extended interview with Sharlet.