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Life After Life

Vista Book Group: Life After Life

The Vista Book Group met in April to discuss Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, winner of the Costa Novel Award for 2013. It was also named one of the Ten Best Book of 2013 by the New York Times Book Review and the Best Fiction Book of 2013 by Entertainment Weekly.

Atkinson takes inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche, who imagined that “this life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more.” Life After Life tells the unusual story of Ursula Todd, who was stillborn on a cold February night in 1910, the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. We return to that same February night (this time the doctor having arrived in time) where Ursula is born “bonny and bouncing” into the world. And so we begin this highly inventive tale, where Ursula dies and is reborn over and over, life after life. As we follow Ursula through each of her lives, we are taken through the Great War, the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918/1919, the rise of the Nazi Party 1930s Germany, and the Blitz in London during World War II.

In an interview, Kate Atkinson tells how she is often asked what a book is “about,” and if pressed she says that Life After Life is essentially about being English. “Not just the reality of being English but also what we are in our own imaginations. During the war we were weighed in the balance and not found wanting…we really were at our best then, and I would like to have known that.” This is indeed reflected in the book. A large chunk of the book, and perhaps the most fascinating part, takes place in London during the Blitz from September 1940 to May 1941. Through Ursula we move past the propaganda to experience the horrors of London life during that time. Atkinson’s striking imagery stuck with our book group members, and led to an absorbing discussion of the time period. There was quite of a bit of discussion as well regarding Ursula’s ability to live her life over and over. Was she aware of her capability? How much was she able to control it? Would you like to be able to live your life again and again, always striving to “get it right”?

When asked to rate Life After Life on a scale of 1 to 5, our group gave it an average score of 4.2. A few readers were frustrated by the conceit of the book, the return again and again to Ursula’s birth in 1910. However, most were intrigued by the idea and found the book thought-provoking and compelling. Life After Life is sure to provide great fodder for discussion, and would be a great read for nearly any book group!

Here are a few read-alikes (and watch-alikes) for Life After Life:

  • Replay, by Ken Grimwood
  • The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer
  • In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson
  • The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass
  • The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
  • Blackout, by Connie Willis
  • Love & War in London: A Woman’s Diary, 1939-1942, by Olivia Crockett
  • The Fall of Berlin 1945, by Antony Beevor
  • Sliding Doors (Motion Picture)
  • Quantum Leap (TV Series)
  • The Nazis: A Warning from History (Documentary)
  • Please join us on Wednesday, May 28, from 6:00 to 7:30 when we will be discussing The Dinner, by Howard Koch. We will meet in Film & Sound, located on the first level of Richland Library Main. If you would like to pick up a copy of the book, please call 929-3400 or stop by the General Reference/Research Desk on the second level of Richland Library Main. We look forward to seeing you there!


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    Kate Atkinson interview about LIFE AFTER LIFE - Random Book Talk
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