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Book Review

‘Life After Life,’ a delightful déjà vu

1/22/2014

Book 012314Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Shirley Shiffler

Back Bay Books

1/7/14

$18

HIV

525 pp.

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again,” Teddy said, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“I think it would be exhausting…” replied Ursula.

This exchange between a brother and sister while discussing the meaning of life, is a wonderful example of the subtle humor that occurs in Kate Atkinson’s bestseller “Life After Life” (now available in paperback).

Unknown to either, Ursula does, in fact, live her life over and over.

The first chapter opens when Ursula Todd is born, Feb. 11, 1910. Sadly, though, she dies before she takes her first breath. In the next chapter, Feb. 11, 1910, Ursula Todd is born. This time she breathes and lives, but only for five years. In the next chapter, Feb. 11, 1910, Ursula Todd is born, she breathes and lives — for almost six years… And so it goes. She has no real memory of her prior lives, although during the particularly stubborn flu epidemic of 1918, she begins to experience sensations of déjà vu that enable her to make subtle changes in her environment, and after several tries, she is at last able to avoid that illness and subsequent death.

While it may seem odd to enjoy a book where a young girl continues to die, I was also captivated by a story line that eventually places Ursula in situations where she has the opportunity to alter the course of history, most notably living in Germany before and during World War II.

Atkinson is a remarkable writer, bringing humor, poignancy and a keen sense of humanity to such an original character and intriguing story. CV

Shirley Shiffler grew up in Urbandale, graduated from Drake University, and lives in the Beaverdale neighborhood, where she’s trying to live her life right the first time through.

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