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The Plague and I (Betty MacDonald Memoirs #2)

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  768 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
Tuberculosis. A terrifying word, as terrifying then as cancer is now. It meant entering a sanatorium for treatment, leaving her family, her children. And what if she did not recover? Hardly the basis for comedy, one would suppose. And one would be wrong. Betty MacDonald always had the ability to face up to adversity -- and heaven knows she had enough in her life -- so afte ...more
Paperback, 254 pages
Published March 28th 2000 by Akadine Press (first published 1948)
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Community Reviews

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Bee Ridgway
Sep 02, 2012 Bee Ridgway rated it it was amazing
I found this book while trawling through a charity shop. It had a beat up old green-and-white Penguin binding, and having a bit of a secret love for plague stories -- like _A Journal of the Plague Year_ -- I bought it for something like 10 p without even cracking it open to get a taste. Turns out it is one of my favorite books of all time, all space. This woman was a comic genius. This is the memoir of a year she spent laid up in a Tuberculosis sanitarium outside of Seattle Washington, sometime ...more
Dec 27, 2010 Kathy rated it it was amazing
I read Betty MacDonald's "The Egg and I" many years ago and still recall with delight her hilarious adventures while chicken farming on the Olympic Peninsula in the 30's. Only recently did I become aware of "The Plague and I", the story of her time spent in a tuberculosis sanitarium in Seattle in the 40's. Her wry insights into the staff, her fellow patients and her own condition keep this history from the depressing tale it could have been. It was also an eye opener to read in 2010 exactly how ...more
V. Briceland
Jul 22, 2012 V. Briceland rated it it was amazing
Let's be honest: Betty MacDonald's chronicle of a year spent in a sanatorium recuperating from tuberculosis in the days before antibiotics sounds like an unlikely candidate for a humorous memoir.

The Plague and I proves, however, the author's gift of weaving homestyle insight with her funny upbringing and her cock-eyed view of the craziness around her. MacDonald has a genuine gift of interjecting a highly personal and relatable touch into the quite literally antiseptic environment of 'The Pines'
Robyn Smith
May 22, 2014 Robyn Smith rated it really liked it
Who could believe a place for curing a disease could be so absolutely horrific? The author of The Egg and I (about life on a chicken farm), the vivacious Betty MacDonald, is devastated to find she has TB when she's living with her family after divorcing her first husband. She's worried about the future for her two girls and, also, how she's going to pay to go to a sanitorium.
Luckily, depending on how you look at it, her brother-in-law ,finds a place she can go to for free because she is a mother
Mar 09, 2013 Helena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humour
At the age of thirty, the author was diagnosed with TB, then a common illness, whose only cure was bed rest in a dedicated sanatorium. This is Betty's hilarious account of the time she spent under the strict regime and rest cure at The Pines, a san for low income patients in America's North West in the 1940s/50s.

I found this book in a charity shop and just had to have it, having some dim memories of having read it over thirty years ago. It did not disappoint. I' ve been in bed with flu for a wee
In this book, Betty McDonald writes about her experience with t.b. and being in a sanatorium for 9 months -- at the time the only way they had to cure a patient, and hardly a guaranteed one.

Like The Egg and I, I started out really into this book, and by the time it was over I was as ready as Betty was for her to go home. However, the look into life in a sanatorium in the 1930s, when there was no known cure for tb and doctors barely even understood what it was, is certainly an interesting slice o
Julie Ambrose
Aug 17, 2012 Julie Ambrose rated it it was amazing
I first came upon Betty MacDonald when a friend gave me 'The Egg and I'; however it wasn't until I was given 'The Plague and I' that I realised how much I loved her work, even though her work is now many decades old. In 'The Plague and I' the contrast between direness (tuberculosis: she's shut away in a sanitorium) and deft, light writing is what makes her work so brilliant. Whoever would have thought an account of tuberculosis and the cruelty of its 'cure' could be so funny to read? There's a s ...more
Jun 08, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
One of my happiest used book finds ever was a copy of this great book. I'd read it as a teenager, and remembered it as completely, totally, laugh out loud until you cry funny, and happily, it was just as funny on re-reading. You would not think a book about a TB ward would be that funny, but it is. Betty MacDonald writes about unusual characters in a way I don't think I've ever seen done better, and all her time in the ward let her get to know some very unique people. Her observations are amazin ...more
Viane Eichelberger
Jun 17, 2009 Viane Eichelberger rated it really liked it
It doesn't seem like a book of this type would be so entertaining and funny, but I laughed throughout the book. Betty Macdonald, who also authored the Mrs. PiggleWiggle books tells of the 8 1/2 months she spent in a sanitarium recovering from TB. Her sense of humor is incredible in the face of such a serious disease. It was also interesting to get a glimpse of how TB was treated in those days.
Sep 25, 2011 Jenine rated it it was amazing
I found this on our bookshelves, left by my husband's grandmother when she was alive. Such a brilliant, hilarious book. I never knew tuberculosis could be funny, but Betty MacDonald did it. And it's one of those books full of little quotes and catch phrases that come back to you over time.
Mar 19, 2013 Sara rated it really liked it
Betty MacDonald has a terrific sense of humor, especially considering the subject matter: her time spent in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the late 1930s in the Pacific Northwest. By humor I mean laugh-out-loud passages on a regular basis! Unlike me in so many ways, Betty shows herself in this memoir to be outgoing, practically fearless, brash, lively, needing plenty of people around at (almost) all times, and incredibly funny in the face of uncertain and sometimes desperate circumstances. I think ...more
Apr 01, 2009 Susann rated it really liked it
"At Bed-rest, the librarian took orders for books one week and the next wheeled in a cart of books and told you that yours was not among them."

While I would never wish tb on Betty MacDonald, I'm very happy that she chose to chronicle her experiences in her sanatorium. My only complaint is that the book is so appealing that I inhaled it all too fast and didn't stop to savor it. Clearly I need to learn some Discipline from Granite Eyes and Gravy Face.

I still haven't read Anybody Can Do Anything.
Apr 24, 2014 Shelley rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, misc, 2014
Charming and hilarious memoir about the author's time in a TB sanitarium. You wouldn't think that this would be a funny topic - and there was a lot of serious illness and death - but oh, it was absolutely delightful. Betty had a knack for finding the humor in everything. I'm not sure how I would handle that situation - enforced bedrest, no reading, no talking, grouchy people. I suspect I would end up in the same place Betty and Kimi did - I just hope that Kimi put her life together. I would have ...more
Dec 08, 2008 Cwalsen rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
In addition to being fun due to MacDonalds excellent writing, this book also is a wonderful explanation of what treatment for tuberculosis was like before the advent of effective medications. Set in a sanitorium in Seattle in the 1930's, the story fouses in part on MacDonald's roommates. One of my favorite quotes -
"From my stay at The Pines I learned that a stiff test for friendship is: 'Would she be pleasant to have t.b. with?'"
Jean Poulos
I first read MacDonald’s book “The Egg and I” back in 1947. I re-read it again last year. This book “The Plague and I” was originally published in 1948. It tells the story of MacDonald’s diagnosis and year stay in a Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Seattle in 1938-39. This is my first time reading “The Plague and I”; somehow I missed reading it years ago.

I did my working rotation in a TB Sanatorium in 1961; by 1963 all the TB hospitals were closed as antibiotics were so successful in treating the dise
Lee Lacy
Apr 26, 2014 Lee Lacy rated it really liked it
Pulled this off the shelves at my in-law's lakehouse and found it fascinating. I found out later that I had two great-aunts who actually did spend time at a tuberculosis clinic.

Later, I read Magic Mountain and can say with fair certainty that if I ever had the need for a tuberculosis clinic, I'd rather go to one in the Alps.
Aug 03, 2008 Peggy rated it really liked it
It's hard to imagine a book about TB being funny. But Betty Bard McDonald's dead-on-the-money descriptions of her fellow patients and staff and her keen eye for the absurdities of the sanitorium's bureaucracy were hilarious. One of my favorites that I re-read every year or so.
Jul 06, 2009 Marilyn rated it it was amazing
One woman's account of a year spent in a tuberculosis sanitorium. Doesn't sound like a "cuddle up" sort of book, but the author is such an engaging writer. I would use a year in bed!!
Apr 22, 2013 Tracy rated it liked it
This is entertaining, but I wouldn't say it's a laugh a minute like some reviews say it is. Betty MacDonald recalls the 9 months she spent in a sanatorium in the late 1930s to cure her tuberculosis. Fascinating to read about how doctors in that time went about curing this disease (which can go beyond the lungs--I didn't realize that until I read this book). Some aspects of the treatment seem positively medieval, but fortunately it worked for Betty, and it is to her credit as a writer than she ca ...more
Sep 18, 2012 Kricket rated it really liked it
in betty macdonald's second memoir, she has left her husband on his godforsaken chicken farm and moved, with her daughters, back in with her family. she contracts TB and heads to a sanatorium for 9 months of "rest cure." there she meets a variety of strange, hilarious and wonderful other patients and staff. i especially liked reading about her friendship with "kimi" (author monica sone). although rest cure itself isn't very lively (a lot of lying down and being silent) i had trouble putting this ...more
Pam Lindholm-levy
Jul 14, 2010 Pam Lindholm-levy rated it it was amazing
I read this book because 1) I loved "The Egg and I," and 2) I worked in TB bacteriology for many years. Today's treatment is so much different from MacDonald's pre-antibiotic era rest-cure. She observes and reports serious issues in the most lighthearted way. She puts us right into the scene. Her characterization of other patients and the staff are perfect.
Because her children, mother, and sisters did not have TB, and because the children were well cared for by the rest of the family, MacDonald
Mar 05, 2016 Josephine rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Coulda sworn I added this one too...go figure.

The short version is a simple one: MacDonald, then a single mother, was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a very serious problem in the late 30s, and had to spend about ten months in a sanatorium. She did live, obviously, but that period was bleak despite her acerbic take on hospitalization.

Interesting as a period piece about treatment of tuberculosis before antibiotics--basically all medicine could do at this point, short of removing the lung, was try to
Jan 29, 2016 Heidi rated it really liked it
Ever wonder what it is like to live in a TB sanatorium in the 1940's? Growing up in Livermore, there was one up the road that was shuttered. It always held intrigue. Kids would break in and report that "there is an iron lung in the basement". Not sure if there was, but it always made me shudder to think of it. This book makes you shudder. Many times. Betty MacDonald, however, describes the monotony, the odd treatments and the friendships of The Pines in Washington state to make it very worthwhil ...more
Barbara Mader
Apr 02, 2009 Barbara Mader rated it really liked it
**Re-read March 2012.


November 2010: Yet another re-read. I'm never quite sure if I would have really liked or trusted this woman as a friend, but she could really write, and she certainly had a zest for living--something it appears all her family shared.

February 2009: Another re-read. Sigh. I do re-read too much. I love this book, though. I like all of her autobiographical books. Onions in the Stew is my favorite--I'm p
Sep 03, 2010 Joy rated it really liked it
Betty MacDonald memoir continued! (semi-autobiographical, I guess)
I am really liking this one! Betty went to an institution - The Pines - for tuberculosis in the 30's. It reminds me of The Bell Jar and/or Girl Interrupted - minus the electro-shock therapy - fascinating to see the daily happenings in these institutions that people would spend years in.
I can't believe people did this. Kimi was my favorite roomate - she always had something "wise" to say.
Started out with the library copy then I f
Feb 07, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
I read the majority of this book while sitting in hospital waiting rooms and, contrary to what you might expect, it really lifted my spirits! When I wasn't chuckling into my sleeve, I veered between thinking, "Well, it could be worse, at least I haven't got TB in the 1930s," and ,"That's exactly how I felt when..." Such a good book! I'm looking forward to reading her other memoirs.

(Oh, yeah, and I Kimi!)
Nancy St. Clair
Jul 11, 2011 Nancy St. Clair rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Who could take a bleak and weary nine month stay in a sterile and cold sanatorium while recovering from tuberculosis and turn it into a humorous and entertaining story? Betty MacDonald can and did! In this book you will learn more about tuberculosis than you probably care to know as well as what life was really like in those harsh but necessary sanatoriums in the early part of the 20th century, but you'll probably be smiling while doing it. Ms. MacDonald has a way of taking a seemingly sad or di ...more
Jan 26, 2011 Rachel rated it really liked it
I read The Egg and I about a year ago and since it was such a charming book, I have been wanting the read The Plague and I ever since. This book is out of print, but luckily my library had a copy available. It takes place in the late 1930's when the author was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a sanitarium right here in the Seattle area. It is probably the only memoir written about a life threatening illness that will make you laugh. This author has a talent for taking horrible situations ...more
Nov 10, 2010 Laura rated it really liked it
I felt like an old lady reading this book. Maybe it was the fact that it was a memoir set in the 1920s. Or maybe it was the fact that the library only had large print editions of all Betty MacDonald's adult books. In any case, I was so pleased to find out that the author of the "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" books for kids also had adult books about her life. This one is about the 9 months she spent in a TB sanatorium - doesn't sound like a pleasant read, but somehow she makes it funny. I also found it fa ...more
Jun 24, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing
Betty MacDonald was a writer who lived on Vashon Island in Washington. She first came to prominence with her book "The Egg and I", which was made into a movie (which bore little resemblance to Betty's book after Hollywood got through with it.) "The Plague and I" is about her experience in a TB sanitarium in the 1930s, and it's approached with empathy, warmth, and at times outright hilarity. If you can find a copy, get it.
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The first book written by Betty MacDonald, The Egg and I , rocketed to the top of the national bestseller list in 1945. Translations followed in more than 30 languages, along with a series of popular movies. In the wake of World War II, the hilarious accounts of MacDonald's adventures as a backwoods farmer's wife in Chimacum Valley were a breath of fresh air for readers around the world. On the n ...more
More about Betty MacDonald...

Other Books in the Series

Betty MacDonald Memoirs (5 books)
  • The Egg and I (Betty MacDonald Memoirs, #1)
  • Anybody Can Do Anything (Betty MacDonald Memoirs, #3)
  • Onions in the Stew (Betty MacDonald Memoirs, #4)
  • Who, Me? (Betty MacDonald Memoirs, #1-4)

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“I am neither Christian enough nor charitable enough to like anybody just because he is alive and breathing. I want people to interest or amuse me. I want them fascinating and witty or so dul as to be different. I want them either intellectually stimulating or wonderfully corny; perfectly charming or hundred percent stinker. I like my chosen companions to be distinguishable from the undulating masses and I don't care how.” 20 likes
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