Review Blog

Jul 10 2019

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

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Pan Macmillan, 2019. ISBN: 9781529014518.
(Age: Adolescent - Adult) In a stunning, revelatory and riveting work, Ted Chiang plunges us into extraordinarily different worlds, past, present and future, such as the old world of Baghdad, evoked both in its past and present, where his characters travel through time and place to find their old selves to settle what they perceive as awry in their current lives. His notion that some beings can change, as a result of understanding their lives through revisiting the past, is pivotal in this work, just as he explore how others might be able to change as a result of experiencing the future. This is explored deeply in his work.
In exciting ways, and in lucid prose, Chiang captivates us while positioning his characters to act in ways that enable us to grasp a point. While some characters are shown to have been fortunate in their choices, others are led to understand that their self-centred nature, perhaps as a younger person, has caused them to have lived a less fulfilling life determined by what they did in a past life. His ultimate message is that living beings can learn from their actions, and indeed from their mistakes, understanding this through this portal of time, and comprehend what they must do to atone for, or to attempt to fix, what was not a good past decision.
Each one of Chiang's ideas is about the deepest notion of human culpability and responsibility to live our lives well, not just for ourselves, but for others too, tying us to human interaction and goodness as at the heart of being human. Exciting and exhilarating, this novel is different, emotionally both disturbing and affirming. It would challenge all readers to consider the way we live today, in our values, aspirations, fears and responses to others. Brilliantly capturing the digital age and ironically placing this alongside/within future worlds or the world of the past, Ted Chiang compels us to consider what we do, why we act as we do, and to wonder if we could have chosen a different way of being ourselves, or indeed, a different way of considering life and living our allotted span. This enlightening work would be suitable for adolescent and adult readers.
Elizabeth Bondar

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