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Alexios, Before Dying: Books 1-4 of Alexios (Lives of Alexios) Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
It's a beautifully written book, a work of craft reminiscent of some of the best writing of Terry Southern or Ken Kesey.
Nonetheless, the lack of a defined and familiar conclusion is truly daunting. It's as if someone set up a plot where "A" led to "B", which led to a conclusion of ..."Q". You can't help but admit the final conclusion may be as correct as any of the myriad possible answers, but our natural instinct to expect "C" makes the sudden shift in perspective both fascinating and disturbing.
As an amateur student of human development and neuroscience, my rational side is bothered somewhat by the book; although author Chance Maree uses the backdoor "out" of noting that all metaphysical experience may simply be a consequence of brain chemistry, she also postulates that perhaps it is a matter of how we define our own perceptions, that even if we are just imagining things, it's how that perception affects us that is important, not the perception itself; perhaps the afterlife isn't at all what we imagine it to be but instead just a reflection of the unceasingly recycled nature of the energy that makes up the universe, a series of personalities occupying one "family tree" of experience, where the bonds of love are the only permanence.
Or, at least, that's what I got from it. It's the optimistic side of agnosticism's half-full glass of water, the idea that the manifestation in our world of things spiritual and magical is a consequence of us only seeing one small corner of our own existence. The world is relatively static; it's the people and perceptions recycled, reinvented by one generation after another, in part to tie them through the familiarity of community and ceremony.
It's also a brave book with respect to its fairly open contempt for the orthodoxies that bind human existence within man-made religions. It's not open contempt for religion, just for its use to repress. In fact, the book revels in the power of ceremony to open up our mind's eye to new perceptions; I imagine the author has gone through a number of types of spiritual soul-searching in her days.
Having gushed optimistically, I should also caution that, with respect to neuroscience, more is known about the biochemistry underpinning spiritualism than this book lets on, and there are much more pragmatic conclusions that can be reached about why we believe things and see things that are spiritual or magical.
We can be optimistic, and hope that spiritualism is part of some timeless continuum, in which we'll continue to play some role after this life ... or we can note that certain types of ceremony induce a self-hypnosis via the reduction of blood flow in the posterior parietal lobe, the part of the brain that controls time and space, and consequently we can become so comforted we go into a trance-like state of hallucination.
That's it. That's all. No magic, no purpose, just an element of survival instinct, a hard-coding in the brain that helps it detach from this reality when this reality becomes overwhelming -- and one that happens to play into the unanswerable questions we have about the nature of existence, answers we'll likely never attain, as existence is a constant, unbound by the anthropomorphized limitations of "beginning, middle and end."
For an explanation of the afterlife, we can consider that symptomatically, theories suggesting the pineal gland releases large quantities of dimethyltriptamine when the brain is about to shut down would explain our sense of being one with God, as it also shuts down the posterior parietal lobe right before death. With no ability to account for time and space, that shut down from this life could seem like an eternity in another realm, one made up of physical manifestations of our own thoughts, dreams and feelings.
But enough about biology. It's a fascinating, challenging book, beautifully written with attention to every line and spare word. It's beautifully crafted, if daunting for those not grounded in challenging their own perceptions, and well worth a read.
It is 1924. Velia is a little black girl who lives in New York who is harassed on her way to school by a pack of boys. The Magician watches her from his window and cares about her. When she is struck by a car, he is first on the scene and (being as how her injuries are not too severe) he becomes her deepest friend. Velia is not an ordinary little girl. She has the ability to know things others can't.
It is 1984. Kimi is a second wife and the stepmother of a boy who must spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. When she learns that she will die from cancer, she tries to prepare herself by taking up with the Shaman in a desert area of Mexico. Much goes wrong. She is a witness and a participant in many adventures.
It is 2004. Leta is in the Middle East, visiting the sacred sites of the great religions. She is young, beautiful and obsessed with her vision of religion. She also believes that physical objects (especially rocks) are capable of carrying the imprints of the historical scenes they have `witnessed', and that one who is sensitive enough may learn to read them. Apart from all that, she is pretty interested in a young man, Karim, who is a friend of her brother's and who does not reciprocate the same kind of interest. The wise man here, the guide, is called the Sufi.
These are three separate threads of action, interwoven back and forth across eighty years in time. The connection between some of the characters emerges. There is no direct connection between the stories.
This is a remarkably well-written book. It made very absorbing reading almost to the end. The last part of the book was as well written as the first part, but the book morphed into something that didn't hold my attention quite as well--call it `metaphysical fantasy' I guess. It was still interesting, surprisingly so for me because I don't care too much for pure fantasy, and a lot of it was quite funny toward the end. But the author's imagination is more playful than my own and my attention strayed a bit. I'm not sure I even understood exactly what a few things quite meant toward the very end of the book. That is all that I can say that is not overwhelmingly positive. Because of my own confusion, I contemplated giving the book four stars instead of five, but after thinking about it I had to give it five. The writing is probably the best I have read in a long time.