Book Review : The first fifteen lives of Harry August

Coverpage of the First Fifteen lives of Harry August

The first fifteen lives of Harry August, Claire North.

I’m fascinated about souls, time travel, time paradox and a sweet tale of cat and mouse. The first fifteen is a story that checks all the items on that fascination list. This is a wonderful tale that spans the multiple life times of Harry August. The premise is simple enough. We are introduced to the usual world which has a few special people in them. These folks are called the Kalachakras. The world itself translates to the cycle of time. The Kalacharkras reincarnate time and again in this world. They retain their memories from their life times. There is a unique fundamental rule that governs this iteration of births, each time a Kalachakra dies, they are always born back in the same point in time , under the same circumstance and they get to relive their life all over again. There are events that change across each lifetime and there are those which do not. WW1, WW2, the Berlin wall, the revolutions, the rise and fall of dictators, none of these ‘Linear events’ usually change.

The life of Harry starts the most usual way. He’s born as an unwanted child, his biological parents decide to dump him. He finds foster care. He struggles through life , the early days. When his memories come gushing back , it opens his conscious to the many lives he has lived before. There is the usual struggle to cope up with such an overflow of information. He does what most normal folks do. He kills himself. The process resets his time. He realizes the folly and adopts a different approach to his life.

And so the tale begins. Harry, having lived quite a few life times, has the cumulative knowledge of the world that was, the world that will be. With each life, he learns how the world evolves across each lifetime. Like all sensible blokes, he memories the outcome of sporting events and makes a winning wager. Easy money. The funds secured, he goes on to observe the world around and keep track of how technology shapes the world in each of his lifetime. He eventually accepts his life, accepts the fact that he’s destined to relive the same life and that acceptance opens up options for him. He uses the time, life time to be exact, to learn and quench his thirst for knowledge. Things seem to be going good for our protagonist.

Through his lives, Harry starts to learn the dos and don’ts of his existence. He realizes the dangers of fiddling around with the natural flow of time and in the process , he gets introduced to the Chronos Club. The club is made of similar Kalachakras and Harry beings to learn more about his kind. Kalachakras have always existed. They have always observed the world, refused to actively change the linear events of the world. He also learns that information is passed down back to the generations by way of a child to the old. The children of the modern age would feed the near dying. The reincarnate would then kick start their life with the knowledge. Logistics and logistics.

The status quo changes when the Kalachakras start feeding back the news of how the end of the world is now accelerated. There seems to be a breach in the way of the world. The apocalypse rapidly accelerating, the end almost near, all of this pushes Harry to challenge the status quo and see if he can save the world.

From here, the game of cat and mouse picks up pace. When time is immaterial, immortality is the way of life, the simple task of saving the world does span a few lifetimes. It sure is not an easy task. The rest of the story is all about Harry’s quest to save the world. He does get to die a few times in the process. Does he save the world? Does he conclude that the world is not worth saving? Does he feel disgusted by humanity’s capacity to destroy itself? The immortals are posed with questions of a different kind indeed.

The book does hold a mirror to humanity. We live in a world where it’s easier to be insensitive towards tyranny and oppression rather than staying vociferous against it. We live in a world where history does tend to repeat itself, the world lets it happen time and again. We are more divided than we’d acknowledge. Given the context of the book, within a given lifetime, we grow numb to way of the world. Imagine living through centuries and centuries of the same world and magnitude of indifference towards the way the world is!

Harry goes through the same challenges that we all go through. Do we stay mum? Do we ache to change the world around us? Do we stand up and become the voice for the voiceless? Do we succumb under the weight of a messed up world? Given the fact that Harry does live on, he still makes his choices. Given the fact that we endure and survive the ugliness of the world, we also do make our choices.

The book’s central premise rests with the ability to travel back in time, the ability to alter the course ahead for humanity. Technology is a great disruptor. Imagine the course of the great wars if Mobile reception was made available during the wars. Imagine the outcome , if the nations had the capacity to make a billion calculations under a second. What if WW1 had access to nukes? The nature of what ifs, the nature of driving technological changes to alter the course of humanity is very intriguing. With the amount of technology in hand, aren’t we inching a step closer to making all the science fiction of our past into a modern day reality?

The other big theme is around immortality and the boredom that is generated by repetition. Spend enough lives, and one gets bored of living. Introspectively, lead a life doing the same set of things, life grows mundane. Insensitivity, or that feeling of staying numb, is an apt outcome of that dogmatic, narrow minded, tunnelled vision of an outlook towards life, are symptoms of a life stagnating away in front of our eyes. There is a certain helplessness to it all. We are, because we do. We are not able to break free and that’s also because we just do.

All is not super fantastic about the book. The way it ended was a colossal miss. The first two acts invest ample into building tension and the way the tale ends, did feel a bit rushed and not well thought off. The climax squandered away the emotional investment that the readers would have made to the characters.

I’d still give it a shot. If you like souls and a commercial , mass appeal view of spirituality and indulge in the act of breaking your head about lives, deaths and reincarnation, this is the right amount of palatable fiction.

Karthik

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The recruit

‘Yo newbie’ I yelled loud in an arrogant displeasure. ‘Over here’ , I signalled her to come closer to where I was standing.

The day was gloomy and the clouds had claimed the sun as their precious hostage. The rays did struggle to escape from the thick density of the cover that the clouds provided. A chill wind swept through the city. The air that I exhaled, condensed into a smoke. Perfect. This was the perfect kind of a day to test the magnitude of my gracious tolerance towards newbies.

New guys, they are usually the worst. The come armed with ignorance and feel enlightened by years and years of mental conditioning that nonsensical notions provide. It’s one thing to deal with a clean slate, it’s another battle to work through concrete opinions. It was still part of the package that I call my job. The glitz and glamorous life of a babysitter, I wondered sarcastically. If only the world knew this, my job wouldn’t be a one that inspired a jealousy in many. Perfect.

The new one , with an air of indifference, shrugged her shoulders and walked towards me. For a given Friday, she was dressed in her best formals. Neat, clean and lavishly pressed to a wrinkleless perfection. I hated that too. Who in their right mind would work dressed like that, especially on a Friday. Years on the job had rendered me immune to such thoughts of compliance. I couldn’t care less. It was not like I put on one of the grandest show for the world to watch. The job required almost zero social skills. The job required almost near zero interaction. The job also mandated that the meetings with the boss was as sparse as godly possible. I didn’t like to dress up and pony up for no bloody reason. In time, I came to believe that a conviction towards such an obedience to a pointless dress code was a reflection of a feeble mind, a kind of mind that lacked ambition , drive and sensibilities to understand the grand picture of the work. Bluntly put, dorks dressed and I didn’t tolerate dorks.

I tried to ignore the young bundle of enthusiasm. I relented eventually. Boredom is a big part of the work. I was actually glad that I had company.

‘So, new around here? First day at work?’ I enquired. I guess I did manage to sound a little rough. Solitude does that to one.

She replied a polite , meek yes. There was a tinge of nervousness to her voice. It was normal. The first few weeks are meant to be that way. In fact, for many, the first few years are like that. I wasn’t the one to judge. I opted to tone down my hostilities and decided to be a better babysitter.

We both sat in silence for a while. We both were monitoring. New batch, waiting to run its course. I knew that it wouldn’t be long now. The Friday was not packed. Most Fridays are not packed. It’s funny that way. When I was younger, I had suspected a conspiracy. As I grew older, I was grateful. I stopped trying to poke around things. I had also learnt to appreciate the simple blessings. A relaxed day at work was a blessing.

She sat still for a while and then began to grow fidgety. She was struggling to find that courage to make a conversation. The monitoring aside, there was nothing but time and a lot of it to kill. She searched deep within her soul to muster that courage. She cleared her voice. The silence finally shattered through the hypnotizing rhythemic drone.

‘Do you?’, she asked

‘Do I what?’ I replied.

‘Do you, like remember. I tried to, but nothing. It’s kind of weird, but the more I tried to remember, I realized that I knew nothing’.

I paused for a second. I haven’t had this conversation in years. Maybe even decades. The dumb perks of doing the same job for a very long time!

‘It’s like this sweetheart. The universe is vast. Both on the outside and on the inside. It’s so vast that you’d go blank and numb trying to understand it all’

She took a moment to process the things I had said. ‘ Doesn’t made any sense. I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand’

I liked that. Meek and yet outspoken. She showed potential. She showed integrity and a spine.

‘What that means is that when you sign up, they wipe your slate clean. I’m afraid that’s how it is. You start new and I mean completely new’.

She shrugged her shoulders again. We both let the droning noise take over. I pretended to check the time on a watch that wasn’t there on my wrist. Habitual residue , is what I called it. I knew it that it was going to be a wrap soon. I didn’t realize that she had observed the nuance.

‘If they wipe it clean, it doesn’t explain why you did that. Why did you stare at your wrist? What does it mean? It feels like a memory to me’.

She was right though. The process, as dictated and mandated by the company, did wipe things clean in the ‘proverbial’ head. While it works for most. There are a few who do manage to retain bits and pieces. That doesn’t make us special, it just makes us miserable. There are things that I see. There are things that I feel. It always haunts me like an ugly ghost. It reminds me of what a pain is. It reminds me of what an experience used to be. Misplaced functions. Much like a glitch in the system. Nobody does anything about it though. There is nothing much to do anyways. No matter where you are, when you are a freak, you aren’t taken seriously. Make enough noise and you are silenced. Those among us, who are such anomalies, we do tend to shut up.

The incessant rising beeping sound yanked me away from my thoughts.

‘It’s time’ I signalled her. ‘What to do the honours?’, I asked.

Her nervousness was visible now. It was the moment of truth. What does one tell ? How does one handle such responsibility? Why is it so much pressure? The whole deal of playing out a role was an accepted norm, but no one spoke of the effect that job had. It was , both, the most important role and at the same time, the most pointless thankless job.

She walked away from me. She walked closer to the bed.

Friday, 11:11 am, October 2017. The date was scribed somewhere. Automation had it’s perks.

‘Don’t be scared’ her soft tender voice carried. ‘You are no longer going to be in pain. Here, hold my hand’ . The rest was a practiced script executed to flawless perfection.

***********

I sat by the terrace , looking at the sun peering through the clouds. She was back after a while. She sat beside me. We both sat in silence for a while.

‘Is it true?’ she broke the silence.

I said nothing. I was waiting for her to quench her curiosity.

‘That , an angel gets its wings , each time a bell chimes?’

I laughed out loud. ‘Is that what the others say these days’ I teased her.

‘Angels, us, we don’t have wings darling. We observe people. When it’s time for them to be born into this land, we ferry them from up there’, I said pointing towards the sky. ‘When it’s time for them to depart, we ferry them back. That’s all there is to it. We are monkeys with a torch light. We are glorified ushers. We watch humans, we watch their spirits soar high, we watch them get crushed. We work with their souls, and oddly we don’t have one ourselves. Maybe we are souls, maybe we are just empty vessels. We don’t have a conscience of our own and not having one makes it easy for us.’

‘You asked me about memories. I had one , a long time ago. I thought it made me special. I thought it bestowed me with a purpose. There came a day and I had to usher an old one back to the gate. The face was familiar, the soul felt known. I was miserable for a while. I didn’t know how the judgement went. I don’t know if she’s in heaven or condemned to hell or worst, left again on earth. These questions make me miserable. I’m scared of the answers too. I’d rather not ask them, I’d rather not have a memory of the existence of such questions. Empty vessels. Remember that. It is the grandest comfort that you’ll ever get here.’

She rested her head on my shoulder and said nothing. If we could cry, she might have shed a few tears that fine sunny afternoon. We cant. She couldn’t. We watched the sun set a few hours later.

Angels!!!! Our job is so overrated.

Karthik