The Other Side of Life by the first-time author Andy Kutler will take you by surprise. This time-spanning book covers two major wars in United States history: World War II and the Civil War – but not how you might think. Kutler pulls this off with an intriguing storyline and well-orchestrated action sequences that put us in place and time.
The story opens on the deck of the battleship Nevada, part of the U.S Naval fleet on December 7th, 1941. The Japanese fighters rip apart the battleships moored in place. During the attack, Commander Malcolm (Mac) Kelsey is severely wounded – and this is where the story gets interesting.
Kelsey encounters a certain Mr. Leavitt who offers him a choice: stay right where he is in his broken condition; or, go somewhere else – a place known as The Other Side of Life – where all of his memories are wiped clean. A do-over, if you will.
Kelsey chooses the latter, but this other side of life is no better – and in some respects worse – than before. He’s fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War. But something has gone wrong: he has retained all of his memories, making him a man outside his own time.
For four years Kelsey fights for the Union Army, and throughout this period, he struggles (understandably so) with trying to make sense of why he is where he is, and how this all come to be. Upon the conclusion of the war, Kelsey encounters Mr. Kelsey again and faces another choice.
That choice is perhaps the most interesting and most jarring aspect of the book. The author never does explain quite where it is that Kelsey has gone. A brilliant move! Any reader having even the slightest bit of religious background or spiritual awareness will quickly associate this with heaven – or maybe purgatory – or even nirvana. Using this ambiguous device enables readers to ponder questions like, what would they do in a similar circumstance – the same thing, or maybe something different?
A captivating historical military story that blends genres and crosses through time and space. Kutler has a flare for describing situations at hand – his descriptions of the Pearl Harbor attack are impeccable – and he brings in multiple characters to help the story unfold. The story may be a bit unwieldy at times, but in the end, Kutler manages it well even providing an unexpected twist making The Other Side of Life is a satisfying and worthy read. Highly recommended.