Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Station Eleven

Station Eleven  by Emily St. John Mandel

On an ordinary, snowy Toronto night, 8-year-old Kirsten Raymonde is onstage watching a famous actor playing King Lear die of a heart attack.

Three weeks later, almost everyone else present in the theatre that night is dead of a virulent mutant Swine Flu.

Four weeks later, almost everyone else in the world is dead of the virus.

Fifteen years later, the Earth is only sparsely populated by survivors of the virus and the social collapse that followed.

Kirsten is one of the survivors.  Twenty years after the flu epidemic, Kirsten is a member of the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of musicians and actors on a never-ending tour of the surviving settlements, performing Bach, Beethoven, and Shakespeare because, as the motto written on the first caravan says, "Survival is insufficient"  (a quote borrowed from "Star Trek: Voyager)

This is not a gentle apocalypse.  Some survivors have banded together in peaceful villages.  Others are drawn to Doomsday cults.  Some cling desperately to the glorious history of humanity, telling whispered tales of flying machines, air conditioning, and antibiotics.  Others eschew the past, wanting to spare their children the ugliness of the now-gone world.

The tale bounces back and forth along the timeline, from pre-apocalypse to various points in the collapse, which might be confusing but isn't.  Throughout the novel, the lasting power of art and literature lend small amounts of grace and strength to the characters. From Sartre's "Hell is other people" to Miranda's "Brave new world, that has such people in’t," this novel will deeply affect the way readers view their technology-enhanced world...and each other.

Although written and marketed as a book for adults, this story is highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  Sexual situations are tactfully off-stage, violence is on-stage but not gory.

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