Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"The Brief History of the Dead" by Kevin Brockmeier

First let me clear up a question that everyone who has seen me reading this book has asked, No, it is not about the Grateful Dead. Okay, that out of the way let me tell you about this really nice book.

One of the things about this book is that it is actually 2 stories (if not 3) wrapped into one. The first and unifying story in the book is that of the "City." The concept of the "city" is based on the traditions of many African communities to believe that after you die your soul is held in a place as long as someone is alive to hold you in their memory. When there is no one left to remember you, your soul moves on.

One of the things I'm going to do is go back and reread this book and read it as 2 different books. This is easily done by chapter breakdown. The odd number chapters carry the story of the "City" and the even number chapters cover the experiences of Laura Byrd in Antarctica.

The "City" is introduced as a thriving community where people who have died have happily met loved ones and carry on normal lives. What they did in life they continue to do in the city. A blind street beggar has arrived and talks of having to cross vast amounts of sand, as though through a desert. Everyone pretty much ignores him as they did back when he was "begging" in front of Coca-Cola headquarters. Everyone is carrying on a normal life after death when one day the population disappears. One man who taught journalism at a major university has been printing a paper for "The city" and goes out to deliver his papers and finds there is no one left to read. He then begins to wonder where everyone went and begins searching the city. He then finds a woman and the blind beggar. They at first think they are the only ones left in the city. After some extensive searches it appears this may be true. But when they hear gunshots they follow the sounds to find the city's Monolith park has a few hundred people gathering together. Many have said that people they were with just disappeared. A few newcomer's to the city give a hint as to what has happened. It appears that a major virus sent out by terrorists has killed the earth's human population. The disease known as "the Blinks" has wiped out humanity on Earth. But why are these people left in the city?

As days go by a few people begin to talk and they all find out they know/knew Laura Byrd.

The even numbered chapters in this book cover the story of Laura Byrd. Laura and a team of 2 other scientists have been sent to Antarctica by the Coca-Cola company to find out if the water from the glacier melts (the world's last known clean water) would be good to use to manufacture the Coca-Cola products. The team's radio antenna gets destroyed by winds and the other 2 members trek to a known Antarctic monitoring station to find a replacement and get help. Laura is left alone in the tent and after a few weeks she realizes the other two will not be coming back. She then takes off for the station. At the station she discovers graves in the snow and a log that describes the deaths and the pandemic that has destroyed the world's population. She also discovers that the other 2 members set out to another monitoring station to look for life and a working radio. She then sets out to find them.

The beauty of this book is the story of Laura and her trek across the snow and ice covered territory of Antarctica and the discovery of what caused the pandemic. Then the interweaving of this story into the story of "The city." This book has a great spirituality feel to it as well as a futuristic warning. Some great wordsmithing from Kevin Brockmeier creates a novel that keeps you wanting to read more.

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