Preparation for The Next Life is a novel written by Atticus Lish.
Published to great acclaim by One World Publications, it is a novel I approached with trepidation as I knew it was a novel that had achieved numerous awards.
I received my copy from Tripfiction in return for my honest review…….
Read on to hear my thoughts….
‘Underpaid and overworked, illegal immigrant Zou Lei survives by taking odd jobs in Chinese restaurants in the underbelly of New York, sleeping on a blackened mattress in an overcrowded boarding house.
Brad Skinner, traumatised and volatile, his psyche ravaged by three tours in Iraq, hitchhikes to the city hoping to exorcise his demons.
Meeting in the margins of Queens, each finds something they long for in the other, and their unlikely love story becomes the heart of one of the most powerful and widely acclaimed novel in years.’
WINNER ~ 2015 PEN/FAULKNER AWARD
WINNER ~ 2015 PARIS REVIEW PLIMPTON PRIZE FOR FICTION
WINNER ~2014 NEW YORK CITY BOOK AWARD
A NEW YORK TIMES BEST BOOK ~ 2014
And the list goes on…..
Preparation for The Next Life is not an easy read. It’s descriptions are grim and it’s story line is one that makes for a compelling but also frustrating read.
Preparation for the Next Life is a modern day Romeo & Juliet…two star-crossed lovers in a world that will just not let them be.
Zou Lei, is an illegal immigrant, from the Uighur community, a Muslim ethnic group, which is native to China’s far western region. She arrives in New York, post 9/11. Surviving in the most awful conditions near Flushing in the underbelly of the city, Zou Lei does not have much of a life.
‘It was a standard illegal apartment divided into sheds to accommodate eight or more people. The first kennel was made out of a shoe rack and plywood and see-through plastic film. He pulled open a pleated screen she had not noticed and pointed inside at a blackened mattress – This is it…’
With very little English, Zou Lei looks for work wherever she can get it and eventually sources hours at a Chinese take-out at Flushing Mall.
Brad Skinner, younger than Zou Lei, is a war vet returned from Iraq after completing three tours.
‘Everyone in the war had changed, the war had changed, and Skinner’s strangeness barely showed. It was chalked up to the war, as if it were logical. Skinner was mentally ill, logging day after day in a combat zone, compounding the damage.’
He has witnessed the worst atrocities imaginable and is suffering PTSD.
Unable to remain with his family due to the rage and anger he constantly experiences, Brad heads for New York city. Unsure of what he will do and with limited funds available to him, Brad soon finds accommodation in the basement of a house belonging to the Murphy’s, Irish immigrants with their own disturbing story to tell.
Brad and Zou Lei become unlikely lovers.
He sees in her his salvation..‘She was what he had ached for when he had been over there. When he had believed he was going to die, the idea of never having a woman to love him had summed up all his pain…in his mind he knew that she was special’
Zou Lei is very realistic about the need for an income, yet she too dreams, she dreams that ‘she could take out a loan and buy a truck and then be truly free. And she fantasized that she and Skinner lived on the road together traveling from city to city, selling what they bought and traded. She saw them wearing sheath knives and cowboy hats and riding horses in a sun-filled land outside the reach of the authorities.’
Brad and Zou Lei’s story will pull at your heartstrings. Their attempts at happiness are constantly beaten out of them, yet they keep trying. Their lives and the descriptions of how they live give an insight into everything that is wrong in society. He, a war veteran, after giving everything for his country and now tossed out into society like a piece of unwanted trash. She, alone and lost, trying to make a better life for herself in a society that just keeps pushing her back down.
Preparation for The Next Life is a story that leans very heavily on a descriptive narrative. New York City is not painted in a very good way, revealing what’s beneath the glamour and the sparkle. The story of Brad & Zou Lei is a tragedy….a tragedy that I’m sure is all too real in the post 9/11 world that we now find ourselves in.
Atticus Lish has painted a world where people are living like animals in conditions that are inhumane and just sad….
Is this a book strong on place? Most definitely.
The darker side of New York is depicted so vividly, as a reader you can immerse yourself in the clamor and smells of the city. Western China, home of Zou Lei, is painted as a sparse and dusty landscape where life is hard and the people are survivors.
Is this a book I would recommend? This would very much depend on the type of reader you are. There is something quite poetic with many of the passages and Atticus Lish has made strong use of the first person narrative (might I add without quotation marks).
For me, Preparation for The Next Life is a literary read. At times quite deep, at times a little long winded, at times poignant and touching.
It is up to you, the reader, to decide for yourself…..
Purchase Link : Preparation for The Next Life
About the Author:
Atticus Lish is the author of Life is With People.
The son of legendary writer and editor Gordon Lish, He has worked in a Styrofoam factory, a a construction laborer, a personal trainer, a moving man, a security guard and a telemarketer.
He served a brief stretch in the Marine Corps in the war-free period between Gulf One and 9/11.
He lives in New York.