Young children are inquisitive and question every aspect their world. Their perceptiveness and curiosity make them at once startlingly profound and naïve. Joseph Kertes precisely captures this paradox in The Afterlife of Stars. Following the two Beck brothers, we enter this dreamlike world of children. It’s a world where everything is new and brilliant and intense. Everything is questioned and becomes an existential experiment – yet underneath all of this innocent joie de vivre rumbles sinister and stark reality.
The Afterlife of Stars plunges the reader headlong into dark 1956, when Russia crushes the Hungarian Revolution. Surprisingly, we witness the terror and uncertainty of the times through two playful young brothers, Robert and Attila. The boys’ previous generation were Holocaust survivors and unrest rumbles around them daily. Yet, like any children, they are grappling with apparently more pressing dilemmas – their blooming sexualities, family secrets, and parental power struggles. The poignant brilliance The Afterlife of Stars comes from the aching innocence of the boys. Their unassuming self-centredness makes their losses and disillusionments all that much more heartrending and familiar. Opera arias run parallel to their journey of self discovery, heightening the contrast between beauty and brutality.
The Afterlife of Stars is a novel of adventure, coming of age, and change as much as it is about revolution. Kertes’ personal experiences with the Hungarian Revolution are evident in his tender, sensitive, yet unabashedly realist portrait of this violent time. Laced with exquisite intelligence and enigmatic emotion, The Afterlife of Stars is a novel that deceives through its brevity but ultimately astonishes and overwhelms. It’s a story in which see our younger, confused, and wide-eyed selves; yet its world of ferocious flux takes us on a journey both disarmingly familiar and shockingly alien. Perhaps we rediscover our own humanity when we witness blameless youth amidst such terror. Kertes’ The Afterlife of Stars burns with unanswerable questions and truths, revealing more than can be answered. It is a masterwork that forces us to confront the eternal truth that tragedy and loss render even the sagest adult back at square one once more.
Mike Fan is a Canadian classical baritone. Mike plays five instruments and speaks three and a half languages. He holds degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, but it was obvious from an early age that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog http://someturbidnight.blogspot.ca. Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise.