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405 pages, Paperback
First published April 8, 2014
“This thing you carry inside you, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know where you got it. But Harry, the past is the past. You are alive today. That is all that matters. You must remember, because it is who you are, but as it is who you are, you must never, ever regret. To regret your past is to regret your soul.”This book is incredible. And I have Mike to
Euphoria is, I believe, the term they use to describe the sensation, and upon experience I found it to be an entirely useless definition, as it relies on comparatives that are not apt to the situation. A happiness beyond compare, a contentment beyond understanding, a bliss, a travelling, a freeing of the mind from the flesh–these are all, in their ways, an appropriate description of the process, but they mean nothing, for no recollection can re-create them and no substitute mimic them.This book doesn't deal with the issue of depression as much as it deals with the issue of existentialism, and in many ways, they're the same.
“I know now that there is something dead inside me though I cannot remember exactly when it died.”The despair of existence, the fact that one has to relive life after life, finding meaning in each, and then losing it. Making impossible decisions knowing the consequences. Losing loved ones over and over again.
My loss of faith was not revelatory, nor intensely distressing. It was a prolonged growth of resignation, one which the events of my life had only reinforced, until I was forced to conclude that any conversations I had with a deity were entirely one way.Now to the negatives. The writing aside, this book moves at the pace of a snail with a broken leg (I know that snails don't have legs, but isn't that the cutest imagery ever?). Here, have a cartoon.
I am Harry August, born New Year’s Day 1919.
I am sixty-eight years old.
I am eight hundred and ninety-nine.
I know now that there is something dead inside me though I cannot remember exactly when it died.
Death holds no fear for us.
It is rebirth where the terror lies. Rebirth, and the lingering fear that no matter how much our bodies are renewed, our minds cannot be saved.
if nothing is to change at all, then we must watch our own kind constantly and punish ruthlessly, and live without remorse
“that there are only two solutions to this paradox? That one–the universe, finding itself unable to sustain this great burden on its being, simply ceases to be? Or that two–the universe, finding itself still somewhat confused, fixes itself in a way beyond our ken and which, by its express interest in the events of our time traveller, rather does imply conscious structure and thought more than a mere amalgamation of matter might be expected to provide. Are we to posit God?”
"The world is ending. The message has come down from child to adult, child to adult, passed back down generations from a thousand years forward in time. The world is ending and we cannot prevent it. So now it's up to you."Typically this would be the moment when our hero-protagonist would leap into action and save the day. However, in this case, our hero-protagonist, Harry August, is 78 and in the late stages of cancer. Like most people who are 78 and in the late stages of cancer he died and the book ended there
It is said there are three stages of life for those of us who live our lives in circles. These are rejection, exploration and acceptance.Of course rejection, especially in the second life, is typically characterized by insanity:
As the full powers of my adult consciousness returned to my child's body, I fell first into a confusion, then an agony, then a doubt, then a despair, then a screaming, then a shrieking, and finally, aged seven years old, I was committed to St. Margot's Asylum for Unfortunates, where I frankly believed myself to belong.Thankfully there is an organization of kalachakra that look after their own, the Chronus Club, providing support and rescue from the tedium of being five years old with a mind of a three hundred year old. Of course this club is well a well kept secret with very little of its activities being known by "linears":
"Well, it depends on which text you're reading what they have. Some say conspiratorial meetings in white robes, others go for orgies at which the next generation of their kin are created. I don't believe in either, because the Klan has really dented the white-robe fashion down South, and orgies are everyone's first bet."Eventually Harry comes to terms with his existence and explores the possibilities his condition confers. Traveling the world, learning languages, expanding his mind with philosophy and mathematics and science. Of course he does overlook somethings:
At these words, Ugly Bill grabbed me in a bear hug from behind and, not for the first time, I wondered why in over two hundred years I'd never got round to learning some form of martial art.Of course there are rules for kalachakra."...you can do whatever you like so long as you don't bugger it up for the next lot. So no nuking New York, please, or shooting Roosevelt, even if for experimental purposes. We just can't handle the hassle." Which sadly means no killing off Hitler (a rule that reminded me of the awesome short story Wikihistory).
"In a little over twenty years man will walk on the moon. Hundreds of thousands will die in Vietnam for no apparently sensible reason, dissidents will be shot, men will be tortured, women will weep and children will die. We know all of this and we do... nothing. I'm not suggesting we change the world. I'm not suggesting we know how. What will the future be if these things do not come to pass? But we must do... something."North deftly segues from interesting world building and character development to what I can only classify as an espionage thriller played out over several lifetimes; sufficed to say it was awesome. There was excellent tension, high stakes, and many devious challenges facing Harry. I was highly satisfied with how well North wove the entire fifteen lives of Harry together to inform his beliefs, actions, and outlook. All in all a stellar book.
“The most it ever seems we know how to do with time, is to waste it.”
“There is no loss, if you cannot remember what you have lost.”
“They say that the mind cannot remember pain; I say it barely matters, for even if the physical sensation is lost, our recollection of the terror that surrounds it is perfect.”
“Time was simple, is simple. We can divide it into simple parts, measure it, arrange dinner by it, drink whisky to its passage. We can mathematically deploy it, use it to express ideas about the observable universe, and yet if asked to explain it in simple language to a child–in simple language which is not deceit, of course–we are powerless. The most it ever seems we know how to do with time is to waste it.”