Sat not three feet from the gently rippling Caribbean sea, I turned the last of the 415 pages of Preparation For The Next Life by Atticus Lish. As a few beads of sweat from the wonderful, sweltering heat dripped onto the cover as I gazed at it in awe, I’m sure there was a tear or two amongst it. I would never quite be the same again. Heart-warming, heart-wrenching, heart-breaking, this brutal modern romance consumed me, amazed me, horrified me and illuminated me.
Desperate for more, yet exhausted from having my emotion squeezed to the end.
Set in post Iraq war New York, an unlikely couple emerge from the wreckage of their lives. Zou Lei is a Muslim illegal immigrant from the east, sucked into, spat out from, hidden from, persecuted by and constantly in fear of the authorities. Brad Skinner is a veteran of three active tours of Iraq and has been physically, emotionally and psychologically butchered in his few adult years to date.
A chance encounter in the maze of New York’s mess of an underground world, where a hidden (mostly illegal) immigrant community lives in a desperate economy all of its own, leads to comparing of muscles and rare laughter.
Zou Lei’s strength is her work ethic and single minded determination to make the most of her, apparently destitute, existence. Brad hitch-hikes into town, with the remainder of his forces pay out withering in his bank.
They, with their ragged clothes and lives, somehow find their souls alive.
His desperation, her devotion, their private battles, their joint journey and the unlikely chaotic romance which ensues are dealt with in a style who’s prose is honest, clipped and, like the characters, on the verge of breaking. It’s like having a window into this couple’s world through filthy and cracked glass.
Commentators, far more informed than I, have suggested that this tale of how the hopes of the hopeless are crushed by the inequality and heartlessness of a fast and selfish world is important in its belief that these tales need to be told. Fiction it may be, shockingly real it definitely is.
You’ll get no plot spoilers from me, but if you’re looking for a twee love story I’d perhaps recommend you avert you eyes.
It is a rare thing for a book to bring tears to my eyes, yet on this wonderful holiday we have just enjoyed, two books have managed to achieve just that. (Expect a review of the other soon)
A heartily recommended read.