Archive for March 1st, 2009

The Brief History of the Dead

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

The Short Take:

By Kevin Brockmeier

This book is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. It’s already on my Recommended Reads but it was unavailable for awhile. Now it is out in paperback. While the subject matter might sound bleak, this is actually a book that celebrates our human connections. I can’t recommend it enough.


The inspiration for this novel draws on an old African tradition that holds that there are two stages of death. The first stage is when you are physically dead but your memory lives on in others who knew you. The final death is when there is no longer anyone alive who has any first hand memories of you.

Brockmeier’s book uses this concept in a beautiful yet tragic way. Beautifully written, it will haunt you for a long time. But that is a good thing. The Brief History of the Dead will lead you to rethink the impact your life has on others as well as theirs on you. It’s not preachy, it’s just great.

A Little Plot:

A terrible disease is wiping out the world’s population. But the people who die find themselves in another world — in a city that is very earth-like but not their own. As the deaths continue, only a small band of scientists in Antarctica are isolated enough to survive, at least for a time.

At first the number of people in this other, shadow world grows dramatically. Then it starts to shrink, as the number of truly living people rapidly diminish. The people of this shadow world begin to realize that it is their memories in the minds of others that keeps them there or sends them on. And only a handful are alive. And these are dying, too.

This all sounds so sci-fi, but trust me, this novel has none of that feel. This book has so much humanity in it. Do try it out. Before it disappears again.


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