Ursula Todd is living her life over and over. Each new birth comes with small variations that have far-reaching consequences. Does this endless cycle have a purpose, or is it up to Ursula to make a purpose for herself?
I compulsively leaf through books while on the job, and Life After Life was one that I picked up and couldn’t put down. It opens with Ursula, an English woman, entering a smoky cafe in 1930s Germany to level a gun a “pasty” man she calls Führer.
Darkness falls, and the next chapter begins with the tragic death of Ursula Todd, strangled by her own umbilical cord before she can take her first breath. Darkness falls, and the next chapter begins with the lucky birth of Ursula Todd, saved from umbilical cord strangulation by the doctor who arrives just in time.
Ursula comes to realize her strange predicament through powerful jolts of déjà vu. Just knowing about her endless reincarnation would be bad enough, but her date of birth–always 11 February 1910–means she is fated to suffer through the horrors of World War II over and over. There are heart-wrenching passages in which Ursula, volunteering as an aid during the London Blitz, sifts through the rubble to recover the bodies and personal effects of those killed in the bombings. This experience has a permanent effect on whatever part of Ursula survives death. In her next life, she ends up in Germany before the war breaks out.
Life After Life begs the question: If we lived our lives over and over, would we one day achieve the perfect life? Author Kate Atkinson seems to think so.