Life and Death with Interruptions

I had jury duty today in Brooklyn, New York, one of the interruptions of our usual lives most of us don’t look forward to at all. My friends told me to bring a book. Jose Saramago’s “Death with Interruptions”, a novel, was the one I brought into the courtroom waiting area.

Here, potential jurors wait after the welcome film, courtesy of New York, that described the ideas of trial by jury. The film showed a history of trials and justice from ancient Greece to England to the U.S.. I was surprised to find myself thinking we have come a long, long way toward justice. After the day long-wait, the court informed me that I was done for the next 8 years.

Waiting is all you do in jury duty most of the time, but having a great book transported me.

I finished “Death with Interruptions” on the bus on the way home, before the chaos hit. On the bus route the seats were all filled and the standing areas packed, when a teenager vomited. Quite a lot, then staggered out the back exit. With no space to back away, travelers’ reactions were extreme. As people exited, a couple were left at the front of the bus, two women who faded in and out of consciousness. Heroin, do you know the look? We have a few areas in New York City where you can’t miss it – crouched or tilted posture, frozen in mid gesture, silent. Neither sleeping nor awake, the women looked completely vulnerable and I felt afraid for them. At their stop they suddenly became alert and stumbled off the bus. And next, my trip was interrupted, as the driver announced the bus was out of service. It was still a long way from my stop, but the driver agreed to let me ride back with him anyway.

The novel “Death with Interruptions” chronicles death, as a character, as a calculating but fickle intelligent being who is neither being nor nothingness. She’s fascinating, feared, and unpredictable. There are so many ways to interrupt life, not so many to interrupt death. But when distracted, even death has “interruptions” in her daily work, and then people stop dying. The story is a delightful thought experiment, a window into another person’s fantastical world.  Music plays a pivotal role in the story, and is woven in beautifully by the author. I could hear the cello and orchestra he described, as if they were beside me. It may have been the music that distracted her, or it may have been love – but the idea is a delicious one. It left me wondering, how can we interrupt death today? Should we, even?

What book would you bring, for an all day wait?


You may also be interested in New Fiction Books From Scientist Author J.J.Brown:

3 responses to “Life and Death with Interruptions”

  1. Jennifer, what an interesting read. Perhaps I would take a Laura Ingalls Wilder book with me and escape to the prairie. I wonder what wonderful things Ma will be making in the kitchen to dream of?


  2. …to continue on the road of death I can recommend you the book The Manuscript Found in Saragossa written by Jan Potocki (1761–1815). I’ve bought this book as a gift to myself after receiving my bachelor in Religion Studies (1996).

    It is marvelous and breathtaking story. I still dream if I will ever write a book I want to use this structure. Starting with one person who is related to another one and so on, and so on…like circles everybody is related which each other and has a story to tell, beautiful !


    The following is a wonderful poem written by P.N. van Eyck ( 1887-1954)

    The Gardener and Death

    A Persian Nobleman:

    This morning, with a face turned pale from fright,
    My gardener rushed in, “Sir, if I might!

    “At work, just now, I stopped to take a breath,
    And looked up from the roses. There stood Death.

    “Startled, I quickly left the work I’d planned,
    But saw full well the menace of his hand.

    “Lend me a horse and I will make it run.
    Before night falls I’ll be in Ispahan!”

    This afternoon (I’d long since watched him flee),
    I chanced on Death beneath a cedar tree.

    When he just stood there in his cloak of grey,
    I asked about the threat he’d made that day.

    He smiled, “It was not threat as he surmised.
    I raised my hand because I was surprised,

    “To find a man here working in the sun,
    Whom I must fetch tonight in Ispahan.”

    Translation: © David Colmer, 2007


  3. Jennifer, you read the novel “Death with Interruptions” during your day long wait for possible jury duty and finished it on your way home which was marked by the vomiting incident and the announcement of discontinued bus service. I am not sure which book from my book shelves I would take with me on my next summons for jury duty, but I know I would also cherish the opportunity to read uninterrupted for an entire day if that happened to me.



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