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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Appreciate the time you have, September 4, 2012
This review is from: The Time Keeper (Hardcover)
The measurement of time, Mitch Albom's parable tells us, distinguishes man from other animals. Man alone measures time, and man alone fears time running out. Every parable has a moral, and Albom's is this: we should replace fear of losing time with an appreciation of the time we have. It is a worthy lesson, even if the parable flounders as it makes its way there.

The Time Keeper imagines Father Time as a real person. In biblical times, Father Time's name was Dor. While his childhood friend Nim was building the Tower of Babel, Dor was learning how to measure time. When Dor's wife becomes ill, Dor tries to climb the tower in the hope that by reaching the heavens, he can make time stop. When the tower falls, Dor is banished to a cave and cursed with immortality because he offended God. By teaching man to count time, "the wonder of the world he has been given is lost."

Alternating with Dor's story are those of two other characters. Victor Delamonte, the fourteenth-richest man in the world, has a tumor on his liver. At the age of 86, he is running out of time. He resolves to buy more time. Sarah Lemon is a smart but unattractive seventeen-year-old who falls in love with an insensitive hunk named Ethan. When he rejects her, she doesn't know if she wants to keep living -- she wants less time than she has been allotted. Dor's penance -- his chance to atone for the sin of inventing clocks -- requires him to intervene in the lives of Victor and Sarah.

The Time Keeper is easily read in one or two sittings (depending upon how long you sit). Albom uses simple sentences to tell a simple story. As is generally true of parables, simplicity is The Time Keeper's defining characteristic. The proposition it initially advances -- that counting moments leads to misery, that we should lead simple and grateful lives -- isn't particularly profound, but the nature of a parable is to illustrate an obvious lesson.

But is it an honest lesson? Dor was punished (or readjusted) because he wasn't content to live his life without counting its moments, but inquiry and invention are not a wasted or evil use of one's life. There is much to be said for the human capacity to plan and to inquire, traits that inevitably lead to an understanding of time. Albom's point -- that we need to spend our life appreciating the time we have rather than fretting about the time we don't have -- is a good one, but it's also a half-truth. The downside of measuring time is balanced by countless upsides, a reality that Albom's story ignores. The sense of urgency, the race to accomplish something before the clock runs out, has led to better medicine, longer lives, greater comfort, serious literature, beautiful art, and a host of other worthy accomplishments that would never have been achieved if everyone were content to tend sheep and feel grateful for a quiet, uneventful life.

Albom's expressly stated notion that life was more satisfying before the invention of time measurement is unsupportable. Time measurement actually began with prehistoric man, long before Dor, and cave dwelling isn't my idea of a fulfilling life. There's an undertone in Albom's story -- simplicity is good, progress is bad -- that is reflected in Albom's vision of a future in which people have "forgotten how to feel." A few hundred years from now, Albom posits, people will long for "a simpler, more satisfying world." Albom's peek at the future is a denial of history: life might have been simpler in biblical times, but it was also shorter and more difficult. Lives were consumed by the struggle to survive. The slaves who were building the Tower of Babel had little opportunity to feel grateful for their existence. The ensuing millennia haven't made people any less capable of "feeling," and it's difficult to believe that humans will lose that innate ability as time marches on. People are fond of believing that everything was better in the past, but as Woody Allen recently demonstrated, the present is a better place in which to live.

Of course, parables aren't meant to be taken literally, and if one reads the story solely as a reminder of the need to appreciate whatever time we have, the message resonates. There are conventional novels that make the same point with greater depth and more subtlety (The Chequer Board is a favorite), but parables aren't meant to be subtle or deep. Nor are the gaps in internal logic as important in a parable as they would be in a different kind of story. At its root, The Time Keeper tells a good story, has a sweet ending, and delivers half of a universal truth -- but only half.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 29, 2013, 1:58:04 PM PST
DQcycle says:
cynical viewpoint, I did not interpret the "undertone" that way. I viewed it as "what is time, really?" I felt it was left up to me to determine how I view time and what am I going to do with it... Dor's life was simple because of the lack of it's lack of technology and modern traps, but he was obsessed with time even in those simpler times. Life in "simple times" was not so simple, it was hard, grueling and about survival. Being an outcast was not so simple in biblical times, in fact perhaps in some ways it's easier to survive as an outcast in todays world, you just pick up and move and start over, not so for Dor. For me the story relayed the point that all we truly have when we come into this world is time and it's what we do with that matters.

Posted on Nov 24, 2015, 5:25:50 AM PST
These comments are so true.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2016, 8:17:27 PM PDT
I can't agree that Albom leaves it up to the reader to decide what to do with time. He sort of beats the reader over the head with the idea that it's wrong to try to extend or shorten your life, or even to pay attention to the material world. The whole point of the story is that God punished Dor for measuring time, which just doesn't make a lot of sense. It isn't sinful to wear a watch.
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