Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Brief History of the Dead

The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier
$11.16 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 978-1-4000-9595-7
This is a dark, thrilling, surrealistic new novel. Most of the action takes place in the Afterlife, in what the inhabitants call the City of the Dead.
The dead are divided into two classes: the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, still alive in the memory of the living. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead.
Our story unfolds among the sasha. The vast majority of their number suddenly begin disappearing. Many thousands arrive and then depart just as mysteriously as they came. It's obvious to everyone in the City of the Dead that this phenomenon has something to do with what's happening in the living world. No one knows what exactly.
Rumors begin to spread, news of the living world from the recently deceased of a great war on Earth. Millions die of a virus created in 
germ-warfare labs, a disease called "the Blinks", a rapidly progressing illness that begins with an itching behind the eyes.
Brockmeier creates a weird picture of the afterlife. 
Many seem to find meaning in death that they lacked in life, reuniting with lost loved one with varying degrees of success. They quickly adapt to an existence without hearts beating or lungs filling with oxygen.
Characters come and go very rapidly: society is sort of a swirling mass. One central character is Laura, a young scientist in Antarctica 
who is one of the last people alive on Earth, locked in a desperate battle for survival. 
While she crosses the forbidding Ross Ice Shelf she has no idea what awaits her back home in America, or in the Great Beyond.
Kudos to Kevin Brockmeier for creating such an imaginative story and setting. I stayed glued to the page from the first chapter right up to the surprise ending. The Brief History of the Dead is enjoyable, thought-provoking, and truly original.

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