Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopian
Year Published: 2015
This book has easily already made it into my top books of this year. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, but golly am I glad that I finally did.
This book is half dystopian/half flashbacks to present day. In the dystopian world, the world has previously been ravaged by an almost inescapable disease that killed approximately…like… 99% of the population (scary stuff, no joke). In this post-apocalyptic time, we follow a troupe of theatre actors and musicians who travel the mid-west of the United States performing Shakespeare plays, because “survival is insufficient.” One of the actresses in this theatre group is Kirsten, and her life provides the connection to the flashback moments of the book. She once knew a famous actor named Arthur Leander, and through her memories of him, we are given flashbacks of his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones.
We see struggle in both modern day, and post-apocalyptic times. The author seamlessly connects the past to the present, all the while providing us, the readers, with beautiful writing. Mandel almost makes it seem as though that pre-apocalyptic times were more tragic than post-apocalyptic. To have the ability and success in conveying this, I think, is an immense feat.
Over-arching all of this is the message that life goes on. We live, we die (in either tragic or non-tragic ways), and we continue to move on. We see this with one of the characters we see in the beginning of the story, and don’t see again until close to the very end. The motivation to live, to overcome obstacles created not only by nature, but by other people as well, is the very definition of humanity…and I think this book conveyed just that. It was beautiful and simple, horrifying and complex, everything all at once. Much like what life is…everything. All at once.
Overall, I obviously gave this a 5/5 stars. I’ll leave you guys with some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”
“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”
“She had never entirely let go of the notion that if she reached far enough with her thoughts she might find someone waiting, that if two people were to cast their thoughts outward at the same moment they might somehow meet in the middle.”
“If you are the light, if your enemies are darkness, then there’s nothing that you cannot justify. There’s nothing you can’t survive, because there’s nothing that you will not do.”