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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August Paperback – October 21, 2014
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*Starred Review* Harry August isn’t human. Well, that’s not quite accurate. He is human but a different sort of human from the rest of us: he was born (in the ladies’ washroom of a train station in England in 1919), he lives a certain number of years, and he dies—and then he’s born again, right back where he started, and a handful of years later his memories of his first life return. Harry is, like a few others, a kalachakra, an immortal who is constantly reborn, each time with all the memories of his previous lives. This wonderful novel, narrated by Harry, ranges back and forth in time as he recounts episodes from his various lives, but it’s all held together by a compelling mystery involving nothing less than the end of the world itself (a thousand years in the future). Beautifully written and structured, the book should be a big hit with SF fans. The pseudonymous author’s name is being kept secret, but fans of SF and fantasy authors China Mieville, Christopher Priest, and Adam Roberts might note a stylistic similarity, especially in the novel’s elegant prose. Whoever Claire North turns out to be, he or she has written a remarkable book. --David Pitt --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
"I don't say this lightly but The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is one of the top ten books I've ever read."―James Dashner, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Maze Runner
"An astonishing re-invention of the time travel narrative. Bold, magical and masterful."―Mike Carey
"A thoughtful and considered time-travel novel, shocking twists and, most important of all, a beautiful character. Harry August will break your heart fifteen times."―James Shurin
"A subtle study of friendship, love and the complexity of existence."―Eric Brown, Guardian
"Wonderful novel... held together by a compelling mystery involving nothing less than the end of the world itself. Beautifully written and structured...a remarkable book."―Booklist (Starred Review)
"A tremendously entertaining ride... You're sure to enjoy the trip."―Toronto Sunday Star
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Top Customer Reviews
First, the bad: I will say that, at points, this book gets caught up in its own brilliance and comes across as a little pretentious and heavy-handed. At other times the author seemed to deliberately choose the most confusing possible way of getting an idea across, and a few pages I had to reread several times to understand (most of Vincent's conversations with Harry, especially at the beginning, were this way). Some of the more emotionally weighty moments were given a bit TOO much weight and, rather than being memorable in the way of a beautiful view, are instead memorable in the way of getting slapped rather sluggishly with a wet towel.
That said, I was so enraptured that, when I finished this book and realized it was nearly five-hundred pages, I was stunned, because it hadn't felt nearly so long. It takes a while to get going -- the first half of the book is world-building and exposition, but done so exquisitely and with such originality that I found that I didn't really care where it was going, only that I was along for the ride. The book regains its focus at about the halfway point, where all of the exposition from the first half suddenly clicks into place -- I feel the ending of the book would not have been nearly so powerful had the author not taken as much time in the beginning to give her story weight.
What I dismissed in the beginning as a failure to explain the mechanics of her world was instead a vital piece of Harry's moral struggle -- we don't know how the kalachakra work, but neither does he, and what is the price of finding out? Similarly, scenes whose point I did not understand turned out to be vitally important for Harry's development and decision-making -- anything involving Phearson, for example -- and because of these scenes, Harry is remarkably well-developed for a character who spends half the book pretending to be a blank slate.
The characters are very complex, the plot is complicated but fairly easy to understand, the world is wonderfully strange. There's so much to chew on in this book, and quite a lot to parse, both thematically and narratively. This book comes together at the end so beautifully that I was tempted to immediately start a second read-through just to put it all together a bit better. It has its rough points, and perhaps could have been streamlined better, but the overall experience was so exquisite that I have to give it five stars.
I think the strength of this book is its rich style, but by that same token, its weakness lies largely in the fact that it is mostly narrative. There were many long paragraphs of it, interspersed with dialogue and smattered with violence here and there. It made the book thicker than it needed to be, I thought. And, the climax and denouement were disappointing, unsatisfying, incomplete.
Still, I'm glad I read it, and would encourage others to do the same.
Harry August is someone who has had multiple lifetimes. Known as kalachakras, the circumstances of their birth are always the same. They don’t realize they’re different from 'linear people' during that first life. It’s during the second one, when they’re born again with all the memories of their prior life, that they start to notice.
As Harry lies dying at the end of his 11th life, he receives a message from another kalachakra, passed between generations and lifetimes from a thousand years forward: “The world is ending, as it always must. But the end of the world is getting faster.” One or more kalachakras had tampered with events and hastened the end of the world. Harry goes searching through time--and several lifetimes--to find who was responsible and to stop them.
I liked this book, although it was not what I expected, I thought it would be a light, maybe whimsical book about adventures Harry encountered as he experienced multiple lives. Instead, it was a dark, complex, philosophical story. What is the point of me? Harry asked himself. “When I am optimistic, I choose to believe that every life I lead, every choice I make, has consequences. That I am not one Harry August but many, a mind flicking from parallel life to parallel life, and that when I die, the world carries on without me, altered by my deeds, marked by my presence.” Many of us question the point of our lives, and we have only one to live. How would we behave if we had more than one?
The author is successful at making her premise plausible, and has a good writing style. She smoothly switched between Harry’s different lifetimes in a way that carried the story forward. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a good story that provides food for thought.
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This book will be right there next to my other like-minded tomes such as Ken Grimwood's...Read more