Chapter 7

Twenty years after the outbreak of the Georgia Flu, Kirsten is a member of the Traveling Symphony, which performs Shakespeare plays and music for communities around Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The performers walk beside wagons made from old trucks, and as they walk, they rehearse. Alexandra, the Symphony’s youngest actor, asks Kirsten about an electrical system they stumbled upon in the previous town. The system was created to access the Internet, and Alexandra asks Kirsten if the computer brought back memories of time before the flu. 

Kirsten and her friend August often loot abandoned houses for supplies. August was enamored with television before the collapse, so he searches the houses for issues of TV Guide. Kirsten looks for any gossip magazines that feature Arthur Leander, who gave her two comic books when she met him as a child on the set of King Lear.

Chapter 8

The two comic books that Arthur gave Kirsten before the pandemic are from a series called Dr. Eleven. The first issue is entitled Station Eleven, and the second is called The Pursuit. The comics feature Dr. Eleven and his dog Luli, who live on a space station that resembles a small planet. No one in the Traveling Symphony group has ever heard of the comic series, and both issues are numbered by hand, suggesting that they were from a very limited print run. The comic books are Kirsten’s most cherished possessions, and though she has been extremely careful with them, they are worn and fragile from repeated reading. The first issue opens with an illustration and the line: “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.”

Chapter 9

The Traveling Symphony arrives in a town called St. Deborah by the Water. Kirsten’s pregnant friend Charlie was left here two years earlier so that she would not have to give birth while traveling, and a guitar player named Jeremy stayed behind with her. A sentry outside the town tells the Symphony that they can set up camp at the Walmart. Very few residents come out of their homes to see the Symphony passing through the town; Charlie and Jeremy are notably absent. The group chooses A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the St. Deborah production. Kirsten reads lines for the fairy queen Titania while Sayid reads King Oberon’s lines. Kirsten and Sayid were a couple until four months ago, when Kirsten had an affair with a traveling peddler. The tension between Kirsten and Sayid is both obvious and entertaining to the other actors. 

Chapter 10 

The Traveling Symphony has many members who do not get along or who harbor resentment toward one another. Despite their annoyances with each other, the friendships, camaraderie, and joy of creating art keeps them bound together. Kirsten walks around the abandoned town of St. Deborah by the Water looking for Charlie, and she sees boarded-up houses with an odd symbol painted on them: a lowercase “t” with an extra line toward the bottom. Kirsten knocks on the door of the Wendy’s restaurant where Charlie and Jeremy had lived, but a stranger answers the door. Inside is Maria, a woman that Kirsten recognizes as the local midwife. Maria whispers to Kirsten that Charlie, Jeremy, and their newborn (Annabel), left because they did not get along with “the Prophet.” The midwife tells Kirsten to leave town as soon as possible.

On her way back to their group, Kirsten comes across Dieter, another Symphony member. He shows her markers for Charlie, Jeremy, and Annabel in the town graveyard, but it is obvious that no one is buried beneath the markers. A little girl who followed Kirsten around town is standing at the edge of the graveyard, and she indicates that Charlie and Jeremy left St. Deborah. Disturbed, Kirsten and Dieter tell the rest of the group what they’ve found. A tuba player reports that he learned there was a mini-epidemic in the town that killed 30 people. Kirsten urges the group to leave, but the conductor convinces the Symphony to wait until after the night’s performance, where they might be able to ask questions about Charlie and Jeremy’s whereabouts.

Chapter 11

The Traveling Symphony performs A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The narrator draws a comparison between the year the play was written, 1594, and the present: in 1594, London’s theaters reopened after two years of the plague. Kirsten feels alive and unafraid while performing on stage. All of the caravan carts have the words “The Traveling Symphony” painted on them, but the lead caravan also has a slogan: “Because survival is insufficient.”

Chapter 12

The audience applauds after the Traveling Symphony’s performance, but they stop when a young, bearded man with long hair approaches the stage and steps onto it; he is the Prophet. He thanks the actors and musicians and tells the gathered audience that they are blessed. He continues speaking, describing the events of the Georgia Flu as a cleansing of the immoral. He compares the survivors to Noah and his ark from the biblical story of the flood. Kirsten and the rest of the Traveling Symphony are uncomfortable, and the conductor asks about Charlie and her family. The Prophet explains that people who leave the town without permission are given a funeral service and grave markers, because they are essentially dead to everyone else. 

There is a whispered conversation between the conductor and the Prophet regarding Alexandra. The Prophet asks if the group will leave her behind so that she can become one of his brides, but the conductor firmly denies this request. After the Prophet leaves with his dog Luli, the conductor orders everyone to harness the horses. On the way out of town, the conductor stops to talk to a young sentry. Kirsten hears the sentry ask if the Traveling Symphony can take him along with them, but Kirsten watches as the sentry is left behind.

The conductor tells Kirsten that they could not take the sentry because people might think that they had kidnapped him. The group discusses where they should travel, since they do not want to remain near St. Deborah by the Water. The conductor decides that they should travel south, to Severn City where there’s a supposed settlement in a former airport. Kirsten climbs into a caravan to rest. Her backpack contains a few survival items as well as her two comic books, clippings of Arthur from gossip magazines, and the glass paperweight that she was given the night Arthur died.


These chapters emphasize the fact that survival alone is insufficient in this new world. In the post-collapse world, survival is more precarious and day-to-day living takes much more energy than it did before the pandemic. Yet, despite the risks and constant labor, the Traveling Symphony dedicates their lives to bringing art to the world. The motto of the Symphony is “Because survival is insufficient.” They understand that it’s not enough just to keep oneself alive. The troupe provides their audience with solace and escape from the grief and relentlessness of the new world. After their performance, the audience gives them a standing ovation, and there’s a sense of triumph and excitement that elevates everyone present above the drudgery of the everyday. The members of the Traveling Symphony also find meaning in the work they do. Kirsten says she more alive onstage than anywhere else. This echoes her thoughts on acting as a child, but she also says she finds relief from fear when performing. Art and beauty are even more important in the harsh post-pandemic world to make life worth living.

The paperweight that Kirsten carries with her is a physical representation of the beauty that the new world needs. The paperweight is, on the one hand, truly dead weight. It serves no practical function as Kirsten doesn’t use it to aid her physical survival. In fact, the paperweight makes it more difficult for her to survive, giving her extra weight to carry when, at times, she carries all her possessions on her back. On the other hand, Kirsten searches constantly for beauty and for clues about herself in the old world, and the paperweight serves as both. Kirsten says she finds it beautiful. She also remembers that a woman gave it to her right before the collapse and that at the time she thought it was the most beautiful and strange thing she’d ever seen. In this way, the paperweight anchors Kirsten to her past. It helps her make sense of her present.

The novel presents two primary reactions to tragedy: creation and destruction. While the Traveling Symphony creates meaning through art, the prophet and his followers use their faith as an excuse to bring about more destruction. While the Traveling Symphony is a true collective, working together to keep each other safe and to bring beauty to the world, the prophet and his cult are held together by fear and violence. The Traveling Symphony makes offerings that can be accepted or rejected freely. In contrast, the cult imposes its beliefs on others. The cult coerces the population to submit and to give up their loved ones and their tools for survival. Both groups, in a way, recognize that there must be something more than survival in the new world. Whereas the troupe answers this need with art, the prophet answers it with war. He attempts to control the chaos and uncertainty of the new world and increases fear, violence, and death. The two groups offer models for the human impulse toward creation and destruction.