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!
Amazon Amazon Says:
Jeff Winston, forty-three, didn't know he was a replayer until he died and woke up twenty-five years younger in his college dorm room; he lived another life. And died again. A more...
Jeff Winston, forty-three, didn't know he was a replayer until he died and woke up twenty-five years younger in his college dorm room; he lived another life. And died again. And lived again and died again -- in a continuous twenty-five-year cycle -- each time starting from scratch at the age of eighteen to reclaim lost loves, remedy past mistakes, or make a fortune in the stock market. A novel of gripping adventure, romance, and fascinating speculation on the nature of time, Replay asks the question: "What if you could live your life over again?" less...
Amazon Amazon Says:
A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, more...
A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic storytelling that makes the novel's unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant. An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler's Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come. less...
Amazon Amazon Says:
From the critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Confessions of Max Tivoli comes The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a rapturously romantic story of more...
From the critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Confessions of Max Tivoli comes The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a rapturously romantic story of a woman who finds herself transported to the “other lives” she might have lived.After the death of her beloved twin brother and the abandonment of her long-time lover, Greta Wells undergoes electroshock therapy. Over the course of the treatment, Greta finds herself repeatedly sent to 1918, 1941, and back to the present. Whisked from the gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages of the West Village to a martini-fueled lunch at the Oak Room, in these other worlds, Greta finds her brother alive and well—though fearfully masking his true personality. And her former lover is now her devoted husband…but will he be unfaithful to her in this life as well? Greta Wells is fascinated by her alter egos: in 1941, she is a devoted mother; in 1918, she is a bohemian adulteress.In this spellbinding novel by Andrew Sean Greer, each reality has its own losses, its own rewards; each extracts a different price. Which life will she choose as she wrestles with the unpredictability of love and the consequences of even her most carefully considered choices? less...
Amazon Amazon Says:
Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative non-fiction, and in his new book, the bestselling author of Devil in the White City turns his hand to a remarka more...
Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative non-fiction, and in his new book, the bestselling author of Devil in the White City turns his hand to a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power. The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history. A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance--and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition. Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror. “Larson is a marvelous writer...superb at creating characters with a few short strokes.”—New York Times Book Review less...
Amazon Amazon Says:
The bestselling, Man Booker Prize-winning novel hailed as "a true achievement. Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, and in so doing created a novel for th more...
The bestselling, Man Booker Prize-winning novel hailed as "a true achievement. Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, and in so doing created a novel for the 21st, something utterly new. The pages fly."--New York Times Book Review It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to stake his claim in New Zealand's booming gold rush. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: a wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous cache of gold has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, THE LUMINARIES is at once a fiendishly clever ghost story, a gripping page-turner, and a thrilling novelistic achievement. It richly confirms that Eleanor Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international literary firmament. less...
Amazon Amazon Says:
In her first novel since 2002, Nebula and Hugo award-winning author Connie Willis returns with a stunning, enormously entertaining novel of time travel, war, and the deeds—g more...
In her first novel since 2002, Nebula and Hugo award-winning author Connie Willis returns with a stunning, enormously entertaining novel of time travel, war, and the deeds—great and small—of ordinary people who shape history. In the hands of this acclaimed storyteller, the past and future collide—and the result is at once intriguing, elusive, and frightening. Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place. Scores of time-traveling historians are being sent into the past, to destinations including the American Civil War and the attack on the World Trade Center. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser, Mr. Dunworthy, into letting her go to VE Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. And seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who has a major crush on Polly, is determined to go to the Crusades so that he can “catch up” to her in age. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments for no apparent reason and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, unexploded bombs, dive-bombing Stukas, rationing, shrapnel, V-1s, and two of the most incorrigible children in all of history—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past. From the people sheltering in the tube stations of London to the retired sailors who set off across the Channel to rescue the stranded British Army from Dunkirk, from shopgirls to ambulance drivers, from spies to hospital nurses to Shakespearean actors, Blackout reveals a side of World War II seldom seen before: a dangerous, desperate world in which there are no civilians and in which everybody—from the Queen down to the lowliest barmaid—is determined to do their bit to help a beleaguered nation survive. less...
Amazon Amazon Says:
Olivia Cockett was twenty-six years old in the summer of 1939 when she responded to an invitation from Mass Observation to “ordinary” individuals to keep a diary of their more...
Olivia Cockett was twenty-six years old in the summer of 1939 when she responded to an invitation from Mass Observation to “ordinary” individuals to keep a diary of their everyday lives, attitudes, feelings, and social relations. This book is an annotated, unabridged edition of her candid and evocative diary. Love and War in London: A Woman’s Diary 1939-1942 is rooted in the extraordinary milieu of wartime London. Vibrant and engaging, Olivia’s diary reveals her frustrations, fears, pleasures, and self-doubts. She records her mood swings and tries to understand them, and speaks of her lover (a married man) and the intense relationship they have. As she and her friends and family in New Scotland Yard are swept up by the momentous events of another European war, she vividly reports on what she sees and hears in her daily life. Hers is a diary that brings together the personal and the public. It permits us to understand how one intelligent, imaginative woman struggled to make sense of her life, as the city in which she lived was drawn into the turmoil of a catastrophic war. less...
Kate Atkinson interview about LIFE AFTER LIFE - Random Book TalkElizabeth H. Says:
A Random Book Talk from Random House Australia