How we look at life has a lot to do with what we believe will happen when we die. It is an interesting exercise to think about what may happen, and it is instructive to learn what others expect to find. In doing so, we learn a lot about the motivations of others and gain a new perspective on our own assumptions. In his novel, The Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier explores the themes of life, death, and afterlife. He paints a vivid picture of the city of the dead, whose inhabitants know as little about the nature of their situation and what lies ahead of them as the living do. As the story alternates between the worlds of the living and the dead, inhabitants of each are shown to depend upon one another for quite a lot. Both struggle to find meaning and to understand their situation, but when the world of the living starts to empty out due to a massive epidemic, they are each lead to some unavoidable conclusions.
From the prayers and intercessions of Catholics, to the burning of paper money in the Chinese tradition, many cultures share a belief that the fate of the dead depends, in some degree, upon the actions of the living. It is often said at funerals that the dead live on in our memories, and in Brockmeier's novel, this becomes the literal truth as the inhabitants of the afterlife depend upon the memories of the living for their very existence.
Beyond this fascinating premise, The Brief History of the Dead includes some very well developed and interesting characters and explores the vastness and power of our memories and dreams. For more about the book, visit the interactive Random House web page devoted to the book and its characters.
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