You have to read this book. I think the last time I said that was when I read Daniel Nayeri’s memoir Everything Sad is Untrue in May 2021. I remember really liking Emily St. John Mandel’s earlier apocalyptic novel Station Eleven when we read it for book club in 2017 – before the COVID-19 pandemic, when we wondered if something like that might come our way at some point – but in Sea of Tranquility, she takes the craft to a whole new level, while following the familiar and satisfying hero’s journey.
Beyond that, Mandel gives us just enough of each character to appreciate their humanness before we jump around in time to the next section. From the beginning, it is clear that we could be following any of these characters but that the one who stands out the most is the one with the mystery surrounding his presence and his name.
Gaspery-Jacques Roberts at first intrigues the reader, then commands our attention as someone worth investing in, and by the end, satisfies our own hero complex that our individual lives can matter immensely even while living peacefully, calmly and quietly. It is one thing to braid character stories across space, but to do so across centuries of time is quite a feat. I would love to go back and read this book again to see if I can grasp all of the connections that become clear by the end.
The symmetry and self-awareness of this text is truly enthralling. To go forward and then backwards in time while asking and answering existential questions is absolutely amazing.
Regarding those answers, it is clear that this book is meant to raise the question of religious involvement or spiritual meaning and then dismiss them in the name of advancing science and technology (which bothers me; I mean, isn’t there a way to include an appreciation of religion?). Still, by the end, I embraced the main character’s conclusion that no matter where he is in time, no matter what he chooses to do with his life, no matter the types of lives he encounters through the other characters along the way, he believes he is real and that he matters, and that the challenges he faces matter too, even if people in general tend to exaggerate their fear of the end of the world.
I have been vague in my review here because I really don’t want to spoil this read for you. You really have to take the ride (on an airship) yourself. I read it in two days, but I will be thinking about it for quite a few more.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.