- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Knopf (September 9, 2014)
- ISBN: 9780385353304
- Source: Publisher
A famous stage actor, Arthur Leander, dies of a heart attack on stage. A former paparazzi, now EMT, leaps to the stage in an attempt to save him. From the sidelines, young Kirsten Raymonde watches as the life drains from the body of a man she admires. Outside, a terrible flu is spreading. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and soon the doctors succumb to the illness. Jeevan rushes to the home of his wheelchair bound brother. As the days pass, they watch as life as they knew it quickly fades to nothingness. Within days, the majority of the population is gone.
No more internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in doing so, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.
Fast a few decades. Kirsten is now an actress with a small troupe known as the Traveling Symphony. This motley group of survivors travels by caravan to communities of survivors, sharing a culture of Shakespeare and music to embark a bit of hope into the lives of the living. On their journey, they cross paths with a prophet who carries a dark and dangerous message about the demise of civilization.
With alternating stories and timelines, it is quickly evident that the lives of each of these characters are bound together by time. While the synopsis of Station Eleven might seem like a dystopian or science fiction novel, it far more profound than that. A message tattooed on Kirsten’s arm, quoted from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager says it all: survival is insufficient. It’s not enough that there are still survivors that roam the vast lands of our country. What these individuals have become, what happens to us when faced with such travesty, is what is important.
Another message Mandel imparts is the enduring magic of the arts and storytelling. Through Beethoven and Shakespeare and a random (yet powerful) comic book, the survivors embrace the hope of what used to be, a world that many of them never experienced on their own. Savoring and sharing the beauty of mankind before the flu struck is the only salvation for the survivors. The message that lingers throughout is the importance to savor the beauty, never taking granted what is before you. A line that will linger in my mind, “Hell is the absence of people you long for,” captures it all so perfectly.
I devoured the egalley of this book within hours of downloading it on my iPad. Weeks later, I was still in a stunned silence brought on by its sheer beauty and brilliance. Weeks passed, and I was unable to put my experience and feelings into words. So I read it again, staying up all hours of the night to finish it. This second experience, no longer shadowed by the awe of my first reading, allowed me to appreciate this novel so much more.
Now, days after my second reading, I still weep when I think of the beauty that Mandel has imparted to her readers. Reading this book is an experience like none other. With no exaggeration, it is a life-altering experience. I see something on an ordinary day, something as simple as the changing colors of leaves, and I tear up. Because I see the beauty. I appreciate it. I savor it. That is what you should do with this book. Open it. Savor it. Live it.