Monday, May 18, 2015

Go ahead and make the scene all day, but tomorrow there'll be hell to pay

It took a while to warm up to Ofir Touché Gafla's The World of the End, but by the end, I was sort of in love with it.

We start by meeting Ben Mendelssohn, a fairly recently widowed man in Tel Aviv, who throws a party for his now deceased wife Marian on her birthday. The night ends with fireworks, after which his friends come back in to find Ben has shot himself in the head to be with Marian.

Ben becomes aware again in a white room being provided an orientation on how to deal with the afterlife along with a multitude of folks who died on the same day he did. This covers how to entertain one's self in the afterlife, what jobs are available, the lack of any kind of trade or commerce, the idea of Vie-deo (where one can watch one's life played back), and a general overview of how housing is assigned to souls. There's also an explanation of the fancy neck gadget one presses buttons on to make phone calls, sleep, etc. If one punches the 3 button 7 times, one also can sleep eternally.

What Ben does not find after exiting the orientation is his wife waiting on him. He does meet a wheelchair bound Belgian who tells him of his love, whom he (the Belgian) waits on every day as the doors open. The Belgian does give him contact information for the Mad Hop, one of the Other World's private investigators.

In the mean time, we get wrapped into life in the world of the living, where people tangentially related to Ben keep winding up in comas under the care of Ann, who spends most of her nursing career getting people to provide euthanasia to their spouse or loved one, with the goal of retiring after 100 deaths. Ann used to watch Ben working out in the window of a gym and fell in love.  Adam, a game programmer and celibate pedophile thinks she was staring at him and asks her out. Adam;s brother, Shafar, is an actor with his own connection to Miriam.

We also meet two very passionate people who love Salman Rushdie and meet in Tel Aviv for the first time. Problem being that Yonathan has a heart attack and goes into a coma before he can meet his lady love, Marian.

Ben's search for Marian in the Other world keeps getting nowhere, although we do meet his entire family and get a bizarre explanation of his family's death curse courtesy of the Aliases. (Aliases would be the souls of children never born. They, like the Charlatans (people who are in comas or between worlds), are among the only people who wear clothes in the Other World.

Eventually, this all gets wrapped up and we finally towards the end find out how all of these disparate plot lines tie together.

While the book was originally written in Hebrew, the copyright on the English translation is by the author himself. While this is good, since it better preserves the flow of the narrative and allows the word play to stay intact. On the down side, some of the idiomatic phrases don't translate well, making a few passages a bit rough to read. There's also the entire subtext of Rushdie, which largely flew over my head. (Honestly, I tried reading The Satanic Verses about 25 years ago and couldn't get into it. YMMV.)

But honestly, it was probably one of the better books I've read this year, and his vision of the afterlife is rife with some very interesting ideas and some very vivid mental pictures.