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The Brief History of the Dead


The Brief History of the Dead

The dead take up residence in "The City," where they remain as long as a living person remembers them. When there are no people alive with memories of the dead, they pass on to whatever comes next. The city is only mistaken for heaven temporarily by new arrivals, since it is far from perfect (rotten fish scent by the river; gum on the sidewalks). On the other hand, with its bakeries, trees, and often beautiful weather, it's far from any notion of hell.

One day, a newly dead virologist appears in the city and announces: "They've finally done it." Someone has released a virus so deadly that it's speedily wiping out Earth's population. The city fills with people who have died in the epidemic, arriving and then vanishing rapidly. And, without living memory to sustain them, the city's other residents begin to disappear as well. Finally, only Luka Sims, the newspaper reporter/editor, remains.

At a research station in the Antarctic, scientist Laura Byrd is alone. Her fellow researchers left to get help from another research center after their communications system failed. They never return. Laura is depressed and terrified, all the more so when her heating system and generator begin to break down, but she is oblivious to the worldwide catastrophe.

Meanwhile in the city, Luka continues to write his newspaper although he expects no readers. He finally meets another person, a blind man. The two join forces to search the city for other survivors.

Back on Earth, Laura packs a sledge and heads off across frozen tundra to find other people, along with food and shelter. She travels through snow and over ice, sleeping in a tent, determined to reach the nearest research center. She has no way of knowing that the world's population has been wiped out, and that her own parents have died and are searching for her in the city. The city itself is filling, and strangely enough, many of the new citizens knew Laura.

When Laura finally reaches the research station, she's shocked at what she finds and learns. Her quest is far from over. As she continues, Laura loses herself in memories, including that of her first lover, a journalism professor named Luka.

This is a stunningly enjoyable read, with an intriguing concept and a gripping plot, that should find a wide audience of readers who love science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, religion and/or adventure, as well as anyone who simply loves a great story. Alternating chapters effectively weave the perspectives of the living and the dead, full of mystery and romance and terrifying adventure, along with sly bits of humor. The writing style changes subtly with the setting --- more poetic when relating stories of the city and a bit more plainspoken while telling tales of Earth.

THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD is quirky and thought-provoking. Long after the story is finished, it will continue to haunt readers as they ponder themes of survival, connection, annihilation, the power of memories, and the mysteries of life and death. I wholeheartedly recommend this book --- certainly one of the best I've ever read.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 9, 2007

The Brief History of the Dead
by Kevin Brockmeier

  • Publication Date: January 9, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1400095956
  • ISBN-13: 9781400095957