When are we alive? Which lives are worth living? What constitutes a real life? And how should we treat lives that are not human? I was left with a number of existential questions after reading A Living Soul. At first I thought a story about a brain in an aquarium would be quite a tedious affair, but I was very wrong.
Not only is A Living Soul philosophical and thought provoking, but it is also exciting, nerve- wracking and tragically romantic (how can a story with a brain as a protagonist be romantic? Well, hence the tragic bit). The disembodied brain Ypsilon is living in a world which is similar to our own but slightly more scientifically advanced. First of all, in this world we can keep a brain with no body alive in a water tank in a science lab. This brain is perfectly able to think and feel like any other human being, but it is of course not able to live a full life. The only other inhabitants of the lab are a dog and some rats. And like the dog and the rats, Ypsilon is a disposable part of a project; a guinea pig. But what happens when this guinea pig is perfectly able to understand what is going on, perfectly able to envision a life outside the prison walls of the water tank, and demands to know the truth of its existence?
P. C. Jersild is, to coin a phrase, the brain behind it all. He wrote his first novel at the age of fifteen, but he thought a writing career would be an insecure path to take and decided to study medicine to give him the prospect of a real job. Luckily, he continued writing, and after a while he realised he could live by his pen. However, the medical world proved to be very fruitful for his authorship, and nearly all his works have featured experiences from life as a doctor and a psychiatrist. This is especially apparent in A Living Soul. It was originally published in Swedish in 1980 and has become the quintessential Swedish sci-fi classic. Jersild has since said that it is one of his favourite works, and one of his more recent novels, Ypsilon, is named after the main character in A Living Soul.
The novel was first published in English by Norvik Press in 1988, translated by Rika Lesser, an award-winning American poet. It is one of those timeless stories that stick with us and keep us posing the important questions. To bring this memorable novel to new, English-reading audiences, we are now issuing a reprint with a stunning new cover.
By Kristin Lorentsen, production assistant