The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.
No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.
As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”
This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.
I really enjoyed the premise of this book Harry August is born, lives and dies and is born again – this novel discusses the ageless questions about rebirth/literally being born again/the meaning of life and death… all questions I have posed myself at some point in my early life. On another level the discussion about responsibility for actions/war crimes/violence is prominently on the agenda and shouts “Stop blaming the victim.” This novel can open up a lot of frank discussions; hidden in this work of fiction are many opportunities for deep philosophical debates and that I applaud.
One of the most significant comments in this book comes from Sophia –a prostitute- when discussing with Harry the purpose of life she states: “You talk about decent people living decent lives, as if that doesn’t mean anything, like it’s not a big deal. But you listen – this ‘decent’, it is the only thing that matters…I don’t care if you cure ageing, or stop starvation or end nuclear wars, if you forget this – “ she rapped her knuckles against my forehead “-or this- “ pressed her palm against my chest “- because even then if you save everyone else, you’ll be dead inside. Men must be decent first and brilliant later, otherwise you are no helping people, just servicing the machine.” Amazing observations.
Again another point of ethics is brilliantly showcased in this narrative – the matter of torture, specifically Harry is being tortured for information re his birth details, and as the orchestrator of this atrocity leaves the room, he states this is all Harry’s fault, he says “Please don’t make me.” Harry replies, “I’m not making you…the decision is entirely yours. I’d just like to clear myself of any moral responsibility for that particular act before you do it.” So salient.
And the one luminous point this book shouts –one person can make a difference! I think we all need to be reminded of this now and then.
On a number of levels I really enjoyed the debate this narrative allowed however my interest purely as a reader was tested several times…at times the story is so repetitive my eyes glazed over…I was lost…I skipped over pages…I know this is the nature of this narrative, the repetition but I think it went on a little too long.