Title: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Author: Claire North
Series: No 😦
Rating: 5/5 stars
Some of you might have seen me raving about this book on twitter and Goodreads over the past month. I know it’s still January, but I am fairly confident this book will enter my Top 10 list at the end of the year. It was at once an epic tale traversing through numerous timelines, and a quiet study on what make us human.
A Word of Warning on Pacing
Now, I know this won’t be a book for everyone. I must preface it by admitting the pacing is almost detrimentally slow. The writing is expressive yet languorous, I took almost 5 days to read this 400 pages book. Thankfully, the author’s writing craft was well honed, and I was kept riveted by each sentence despite the pacing issue. Gorgeousness of the writing aside, you should try and hang on and read Harry August due to the reasons below!
Unique Time Traveling Concept
“It is said that there are three stages of life for those of us who live our lives in circles. These are rejection, exploration, and acceptance.”
We begin as Harry August lies on his death bed in his eleventh life, and he recounts his tale from his first life forward. Harry is a kalachakra – fated to relive his life over again every time he dies. In each life time, he wakes as a crying babe in the 1920s, and he regains his knowledge of former lives by the time he’s 6. In addition to being a kalachakra, Harry is blessed with an eidetic memory and keen intellect – it was an absolute delight watching him navigate through the first couple of lives on his own.
“Ours is the fellowship of strangers who know a secret that we cannot express.”
However, the mythology of this world is expanded exponentially when we learn there are are more people like Harry. In fact, there’s a Cronus Club spanning across centuries and continents. Kalachakras living hidden from mortal sights, repeating their lives while at the same time passing on knowledge through the millenia through an elaborate of of Chinese whispers. For these people, there are infinite possibilities and infinite experiences. I got shivers thinking about However, they are also cursed due to an inability to create true change in the world, as large scale events such as World War II are doomed to repeat. The members of the Cronus Club live their lives a thousand fold, never forming deep connections with the human around them.
The Value of Life
“The most it ever seems we know how to do with time, is to waste it.”
I love this book for the scope of the questions which it poses. Most of the Cronus Club’s members are content to dally the globe, living in indulgence and experiencing all of life’s excess. Harry, as a newer member and due to some traumatic experiences in his past, questions this way of life.
Either to change a world-many, many worlds, each touched by the choices I make in my life, for every deed a consequence, and in every love and every sorrow truth-or nothing at all.
Do the kalachakras have a purpose, or are they destined to be bystanders of a world they’re forced to relive? Do the opportunity of time and endless second chances enhance or devalue a person’s existence? How much of the world can you experience before you become numb to its worth and beauty? These are all questions which the book attempts to answer – and it never deigns to give it to us straight. We see all the different kalachakra and how they deal with their cycle of life in different ways. It’s endlessly fascinating, and this book provide a concept which allows us to examine the human mind and memory at its limit.
Frenemies and Bromance
“For progress, we have eaten our souls up, and nothing matters anymore.”
Harry makes for an adequately compelling protagonist, however, his relative inertia meant that I welcomed the addition of a character who truly shook up the plot. In him, Harry found both a kindred spirit and a dangerous nemesis. This character (who I refuse to name as it would ruin part of the story) thirsts for knowledge, for cause, for progress. Harry is seduced by his vision – yet together, the two begin to create events that could rip through the fabric of time. Their battle of wit made the last half of the book incredibly rewarding. We see men who have stood untouched by the passage of time, we see men who would like to play God.
Incredibly Rich Research
Finally, I love Harry August for how truly well-researched and all encompassing it was. Harry lives through multiple lifetimes from the 1920s to the late 20th century, and care have been taken to consider all the world events: large and small, in the plot. This is not restricted to Harry’s native England alone. Through his travels, we also see glimpse of Russia, China, South East Asia, and many other destinations as they were in this time period.
I also loved seeing Harry’s challenge as he tried to hide his foreknowledge in medicine, in science, and in history from his mortal counterparts. This particular aspect of the novel was so particularly well done, I want to clutch the book and hug it every time I think of it!
I just loved this book so damn much – I get the tingles when science fiction books make me question the world I live in, and ponder endlessly what it’ll be like for me to inhabit its particular universe.
Needless to say, I want to beg you all to read this book and share your experience with me! What would you do if you could relive your lifetime over and over again? (Aside from obviously trying to read every book ever printed ;))