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The Brief History of the Dead: A novel [Hardcover]

Kevin Brockmeier
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 14 2006
“Remember me when I’m gone”
just took on a whole new meaning.

The City is inhabited by the recently departed, who reside there only as long as they remain in the memories of the living. Among the current residents of this afterlife are Luka Sims, who prints the only newspaper in the City, with news from the other side; Coleman Kinzler, a vagrant who speaks the cautionary words of God; and Marion and Phillip Byrd, who find themselves falling in love again after decades of marriage.

On Earth, Laura Byrd is trapped by extreme weather in an Antarctic research station. She’s alone and unable to contact the outside world: her radio is down and the power is failing. She’s running out of supplies as quickly as she’s running out of time.

Kevin Brockmeier interweaves these two stories in a spellbinding tale of human connections across boundaries of all kinds. The Brief History of the Dead is the work of a remarkably gifted writer.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A deadly virus has spread rapidly across Earth, effectively cutting off wildlife specialist Laura Byrd at her crippled Antarctica research station from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the planet's dead populate "the city," located on a surreal Earth-like alternate plane, but their afterlives depend on the memories of the living, such as Laura, back on home turf. Forced to cross the frozen tundra, Laura free-associates to keep herself alert; her random memories work to sustain a plethora of people in the city, including her best friend from childhood, a blind man she'd met in the street, her former journalism professor and her parents. Brockmeier (The Truth About Celia) follows all of them with sympathy, from their initial, bewildered arrival in the city to their attempts to construct new lives. He meditates throughout on memory's power and resilience, and gives vivid shape to the city, a place where a giraffe's spots might detach and hover about a street conversation among denizens. He simultaneously keeps the stakes of Laura's struggle high: as she fights for survival, her parents find a second chance for love—but only if Laura can keep them afloat. Other subplots are equally convincing and reflect on relationships in a beautiful, delicate manner; the book seems to say that, in a way, the virus has already arrived. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–In a not-so-distant future, a deadly virus kills off every human on Earth, except for Laura Byrd, a wildlife specialist on an expedition to the South Pole. Readers quickly learn that the dead move on to another life in a fantastic city on another plane of existence; there, they live out a second life free from aging and disease until every person who knew them on Earth dies. The chapters alternate between Laura and those in the city of the dead, often showing how these individuals connect to her. The elegiac, thoughtful tone of the writing is balanced by the survivor's adventure-filled travels across the frozen landscape as she hopelessly searches for signs of others. A crisis develops in the city as the only ones who remain finally realize that they continue to exist because Laura is still fighting for her life on Earth. Brockmeier's style–elements of fantasy mixed with a strong sense of character and a wonderful lyricism–will remind readers of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (Random, 2004). Although lacking some of the far-reaching depth of Mitchell's work, Brockmeier's haunting reminder of how connected people are to one another will appeal to readers of fantasy yearning for a bit more to think about than the usual fare offers.–Matthew L. Moffett, Ford's Theatre Society, Washington, DC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
One of the few comforts we can draw on when facing up to our own mortality is the fact that we will live on in the memories of those we leave behind. Kevin Brockmeier takes this sentiment and envisions a world in which it is literally true. As such, The Brief History of the Dead makes for a unique take on the idea of life and death, as well as a poignant testimony to the power of memory.

For the dearly departed, there is no heaven or hell in this world of Brockmeier's imagination. Although the crossing can be extremely difficult, each soul finds his/her way to a magnificent City. Apart from the City's mysterious ability to expand in such a way that the newly arrived always have a place to live and work, it proves to be much like Earth. Many of its denizens take up the same kind of life they used to live, performing the same jobs and reuniting with loved ones who have also passed on, while others choose to reinvent themselves. After 60 or 70 years, many of them quietly disappear, but most are too busy living their own lives to really worry about their own distant future. It soon becomes clear, however, that those in the City remain there only as long as they exist in the living memories of individuals on Earth.

The great City undergoes drastic changes when a deadly virus back on Earth begins claiming the lives of a majority of the living world's population. Our only window into this futuristic Earth comes through the eyes of wildlife specialist Laura Byrd, but she could not be more isolated from the infection.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A really interesting story about the afterlife Feb. 26 2007
Ok so I'm going to try and give the plot but not ruin it, so hopefully I can do it :) Basically in the book after you die you go to another "world" not too different than this one, it has buildings and jobs, except that you're dead and you know it too. The deceased figure as long as there are alive people who still remember them, they can exist in this world, especially since it seems that people only stay there for 60-70 years.

Bad news is back in the alive world a plague is ravaging the earth and killing most of the population. What will happen to the dead when no one remembers them? Where will the new dead people end up? And why are some people still remaining in the afterlife, what's their connection?

I really enjoyed this book. Not only was it very creative but Brockmeirer's writing is excellent and easy to flow through. For such a short book I'm surprised that I am so gung ho about it, but the author manages to pack an interesting, though provoking story into a faster read. I would say anyone should read this book, it was very good, and hey it's a short read so how can you go wrong?
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting concept, muddled delivery Jan. 27 2007
Tell me a story about the relationship between life and the afterlife, or tell me a story about the last remaining person on Earth, but please do not tell me about both in the same story. Separately, either of the concepts in this book is definitely interesting, but together, each concept seems incomplete and slightly ridiculous.

When the City is introduced, it's a fascinating notion of life after death, with wonderfully vivid descriptions of the unique way individuals find themselves in the afterlife. The City is then described in more detail through the point of view of various characters in the story. The concurrent story of the end of civilization, however, creates immediate conflict within the City so that it exists in a way that has never been before -- but what about the thousands of years that the City just existed?? Brockmeier never really addresses the day-to-day workings of the City such as: there seems to be some sort of money exchange within the City, but characters without a paying job are able to purchase things, and one character seems to be homeless; there are birds in the City, but they're the only animals other than people mentioned at all, and it's done so without explanation; and it's made clear that no one is the City has a heartbeat (they're dead, after all), but characters breathe away in their sleep. All of these things potentially have purposes -- and I anticipated learning about those purposes when I began reading the book -- but they are never address let alone explained as the City begins to change.

I can't say I'll be recommending this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful. March 11 2006
I loved it. The character's stories completely draw you in and won't let you go until the very end. Amazing storytelling.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not much of a story April 11 2010
I found this book as dull as they come. I can't believe I even finished it. The ending was totally unsatisfying. Holy cow it was slow. Don't waste your time reading this book.
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