It’s been said that a man is not actually born when he comes out of the female body, since he doesn’t know yet that he is born. He is actually born when he first obtains the knowledge of his birth. So it is when a revelation of great magnitude bursts upon a person’s consciousness with the power to change his trajectory in life. The Life-Sentence is a novel that centers on just such a revelation—a past-life experience that shatters Kip Morgan’s sense of identity, leads him down a path of determined self-inquiry, and ultimately brings him closer to grasping the true reality of existence.
Kip’s story begins with that of his father, Alfred Morgenstern, a German Jew who is forced to flee his homeland. Alfred comes to the United States, while his two brothers emigrate to England and the Netherlands and their parents are left behind and deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, never to return. Alfred’s younger brother is forced to go underground in Amsterdam, but is discovered and shipped to Auschwitz, where he is among only a handful of prisoners to survive. Once in America, Al enlists in the U.S. Army and serves on the Western front, where he helps liberate his hometown and is reunited with his brother, just returned from the concentration camp.
The focus of the narrative, however, is on Kip, who belongs to a new generation that has never experienced the extreme violence and dislocation of the past. This relative ease has given members of his generation the chance to reflect on life in a way that members of other generations did not have the time and opportunity to do. Many of those who have been granted this freedom know instinctively that time is an illusion. There is no past, no future. Everything occurs in a single moment, or in eternity.
The lesson of The Life Sentence is that in order to understand what’s really going on, we have to let go, let go of everything. And that’s practically impossible for most of us because we’re all preoccupied with our personal obsessions. There is only one true goal in life, and that is to get rid of these obsessions once and for all, to be able to let go utterly, and thus be able to grasp the true reality of existence.