A Brief History of Living Forever: A Novel (Hardcover)
In this “ingenious, funny, and chilling” novel (Publishers Weekly, starred review) from the author of Spaceman of Bohemia, two long-lost siblings risk everything to save their mother from oblivion in an authoritarian near-future America obsessed with digital consciousness and eternal life—a story that “packs a walloping punch” (Esquire).When Adéla discovers she has a terminal illness, she leaves behind her native Czech village for a chance at reuniting in America with Tereza, the daughter she gave up at birth, decades earlier. But the country Adéla experienced as a young woman, when she eloped with a filmmaker and starred in his cult sci-fi movie, has changed entirely. In 2030, America is ruled by an authoritarian government increasingly closed off to the rest of the world.
Tereza, the star researcher for VITA, a biotech company hellbent on discovering the key to immortality, is overjoyed to meet her mother, with whom she forms an instant, profound connection. But when their time together is cut short by shocking events, Tereza must uncover VITA’s alarming activity in the wastelands of what was once Florida, and persuade the Czech brother she’s never met to join her in this odds-defying adventure.
Narrated from the beyond by Adéla’s restless spirit, A Brief History of Living Forever is a high-wire act of storytelling from a writer “booming with vitality and originality,” whose “voice is distinct enough to leave tread marks” (New York Times). By turns insightful, moving, and funny, the novel not only confirms Jaroslav Kalfař’s boundless powers of invention but also exults in the love between a mother and her daughter, which neither space nor time can sever.
“Kalfař is a wise, rapturous, and original writer . . . Eloquent, heart-stunning, and rich in awe-inspiring prose.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Relentlessly inventive . . . His writing has the same hyperactivity and fidgety contempt for generic boundaries as that of the young Safran Foer.” —The Guardian
About the Author
Jaroslav Kalfař, born in the Czech Republic, immigrated to the Unites States at the age of fifteen. He is the author of the critically acclaimed debut Spaceman of Bohemia, a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award that was translated into fifteen languages and is being made into a major motion picture starring Adam Sandler and two-time Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan. Kalfař holds an MFA from New York University and lives in Brooklyn.
“Electric . . . Kalfař’s inventiveness rolls as if on wheels . . . He has a Kurt Vonnegut-like satirical touch . . . He also has an old-world melancholy, beneath the humor, that will put some readers in mind of writers like Mordecai Richler and Jerzy Kosinski . . . Jim Harrison, asked by The Paris Review if he had any advice for young writers, said: ‘Just start at Page 1 and write like a son of a bitch.’ This seems to be Kalfař’s method . . . A Brief History of Living Forever proposes that there’s only one thing worse than disintegrating. It’s being trapped in a mind you can never click off.”
—New York Times
"Inventive and heartfelt, this dystopian take on the immigrant experience and the American Dream packs a walloping punch."—Esquire
“An ambitious novel . . . Kalfař’s vision of America that dominates the novel’s not-so-distant future is uncomfortably plausible . . . Chaos seems to be winning of late, and Kalfař is trying desperately to urge us to keep flying."—Washington Post
“Ambitious and exciting . . . Beautifully achieved . . . As was already clear from his genre-bending debut, Spaceman of Bohemia, Kalfař knows his way around a sentence. By turns aphoristic and lyrical, with touches of Don DeLillo, Kalfař’s prose contains plenty of stylish wisdom . . . Mixing fantasy, satire, horror, and metaphysics, A Brief History of Living Forever has many stories to tell. But the pulse animating each of them is the shock of sudden loss—of jobs, of loved ones, of a world you thought you knew. For all the jaunty quips or angry asides, the undertone is one of mourning . . . The delicacy of touch displayed here is reminiscent of the best of Milan Kundera."—The Telegraph (UK)
“A thoroughly original story from a writer to watch.”—Emily Firetong, Lit Hub
“Kalfař (Spaceman of Bohemia) imagines in his ingenious latest a near-future dystopia involving ghastly longevity experiments…. Kalfař draws many funny and chilling connections between Cold War era communist secret police and his imagined future fascist America… With a perceptive satirical slant, sharp humor, and convincing emotion, Kalfař builds a plausibly terrifying world.”—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
"With piercing insights into human nature and the way we live now, Kalfar paints a compelling and convincing
portrait of a near future rife with dangerous nationalism and perilous technological advances."—Kristine Huntley, Booklist
“Enchanting and haunting . . . Kalfař displays an extremely current sense of history, and he has an eye for the simultaneously ludicrous and ominous nature of news.”—Locus Magazine
“A Brief History of Living Forever is a book from the future, here to deliver an urgent story about the present. Extending the speculative logics of Kafka and working in the dreamlike, psychic registers of Philip K. Dick, Kalfař presents an entrancing, lucid, and incisive vision of immortality that starts and ends with the self. This is a brilliant, disorienting, and endlessly fascinating read.”—Tom Lin, author of The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu
"Kalfar, who moved to the United States from the Czech Republic when he was 15, incorporates both countries in this dystopian, techno-mystery story about life beyond physical death...Kalfar brings his characters to life with almost formal eloquence...he makes the potential power of technology and artificial intelligence a frightening prospect. Both scary science fiction and a bleak nightmare about the end of democracy."—Kirkus
"Jaroslav Kalfar turns an ambitious premise (a person whose body has expired but whose consciousness lives on) into a moving, frightening story about the strength of family bonds."—Michael Welch, Scientific American
Praise for Spaceman of Bohemia
"Kalfar has much larger aims with Spaceman of Bohemia than to write a spry, madcap work of speculative fiction . . . He has such a lively mind and so many ideas to explore . . . Kalfar has an exhilarating flair for imagery. He writes boisterously and mordantly . . . His voice is distinct enough to leave tread marks . . . A frenetically imaginative first effort, booming with vitality and originality."—Jennifer Senior, New York Times
"Spaceman of Bohemia gets heavy-but the story, like its protagonist, flies along weightlessly. A book like this lives and dies on the strength of its first-person voice, and in that regard, Kalfar triumphs. Jakub may be self-absorbed, but he's also charming, funny, and endearingly sympathetic."—Jason Heller, NPR
"In Jaroslav Kalfar's zany first novel . . . the spaceman, the alien, and all the rest of the book's extravagant conceptual furniture are merely metaphors for the human-scale issues that are its real concerns, in particular the collapse of Jakub's marriage to Lenka. That's not to say Kalfar hasn't done his research. There are lovingly detailed passages on the minutiae of life in zero gravity, but all the whizzy space business is harnessed to the basic question of what it means to leave and whether it's possible to come back. The alien acts as a Proustian trigger for Jakub's memories . . . But for all the strangeness of outer space, it is the writing about his home village, the place to which he longs to return and perhaps never can, that beats strongest in this wry, melancholy book."—Hari Kunzru, New York Times Book Review
The author skillfully splices a barbed picture of the Czech Republic between Jakub's misadventures in the cosmos. "These include floating free inside the dust cloud and hitching a ride on a clandestine Russian space shuttle. The book suggests that every national hero has a dark side, though you may have to leave Earth to see it."—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal "Best New Fiction"
"Outer space, inner turmoil, fierce ambition and the hunger for love - all seem to boldly go where no novelist has gone before in Jaroslav Kalfar's audaciously moving debut, Spaceman of Bohemia...Eloquent, heart-stunning and rich in awe-inspiring prose, Spaceman of Bohemia flirts with how we leave our mark on history. But its real mission is to unravel what makes us human - and that, according to this wise, rapturous and original novel, is a connection to others."—Caroline Leavitt, San Francisco Chronicle
"Spaceman of Bohemia represents the fiery, funny launch of an exciting new voice. Jaroslav Kalfar, like a good literary astronaut, finds levity in gravity, and vice versa."—Sam Lipsyte, New York Times bestselling author of The Ask
"Spaceman of Bohemia should win many fans. With its interplanetary shenanigans and lessons in Czech history, this zany satirical debut is bursting at the seams."—Tibor Fischer, Guardian UK
"A supercharged, voice-driven romp."
—Meredith Turits, Extra Crispy
"Blend Bradbury and Lem with Saint-Exupéry and perhaps a little Kafka, and you get this talky, pleasing first novel by Czech immigrant writer Kalfar....a book built on sly, decidedly contrarian humor. Blending subtle asides on Czech history, the Cold War, and today's wobbly democracy, Kalfar's confection is an inventive, well-paced exercise in speculative fiction. An entertaining, provocative addition to the spate of literary near-future novels that have lately hit the shelves."—Kirkus Reviews
"Spaceman of Bohemia is an out-of-this-world look at all our beautiful smallnesses, from the cells of our biology to the bacterial minutiae of one broken heart. The roar of revolution and governmental injustice is cast against the depths of our emotions and the bottomless, grateful silence of the stars. Jaroslav Kalfar has spun an unforgettable tale, a poignant interplanetary work that collapses the distance between us with the beauty of its language and the unstoppable wonder of this universe he's created."
—Samantha Hunt, author of Mr. Splitfoot
"Spaceman of Bohemia is the best, most enjoyably heartbreaking, most fun book you'll read this year. On the surface, you'll see affinities with Gary Shteyngart, with The Martian, with Kelly Link. But Jaroslav Kalfar's voice is entirely his own. I beg you: take this strange, hilarious, profound, life-affirming trip into literary outer space."—Darin Strauss, National Book Critics Circle Award winner for Half a Life
"Spaceman of Bohemia is a wise and elegant work composed of its own unique ethereal grace-a hauntingly beautiful story of solitude, hope, family, and love that transcends, uplifts, carries the reader away."—Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
"Spaceman of Bohemia is unforgettable: a work of breathtaking scope and heart, and a reflection of humanity that's raw and strange and profound and true."—Lisa McInerney, author of The Glorious Heresies, winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
"An exhilarating concoction of history, social commentary, and irony. Reading like Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 crossed with a Milan Kundera novel, set in a Philip K. Dick universe, with a nod to Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, it manages to be singularly compelling while still providing mass appeal. Highly recommended."—Library Journal (starred review)
"Kalfar's writing has the same hyperactivity, and fidgety contempt for generic boundaries, as that of the young Safran Foer.... Part space opera, part folk tale, his novel is also a love song to the city of Prague.... Funny, humane and oddly down-to-earth in ways that its scenario cannot possibly convey."
—Claire Armitstead, The Guardian