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Again and Again


Again and Again

“It seemed I’d never get a fair shake in this world, no matter how many lives I led.” So says centenarian Eugene Miles, a resident of an assisted living facility in California called Desert Greens. He lives a quiet, confined and resigned life, working puzzles and tormenting the various mental health professionals who refuse to believe his tales of previous lives: primarily as Euric, an orphan pickpocket in Seville when the Moors come to inhabit the Iberian Peninsula, eclipsing the Christians and Visigoths who were already there.

Eugene takes great pains to dissuade any listener that the Moors civilized Seville, since Euric was a somewhat accidental member of the resistance. Fleeing from lifting a purse from a bigwig in the market, he’s protected by a fierce, beautiful young woman named Gaya. His time in the resistance involves interminable days captive under ground, as the bigwig attempts to persuade him to rat out Gaya. But Euric is entirely devoted to Gaya and, through her, the cause. She remains the love of his lives, even after 10 centuries.

"I loved Eugene’s slightly formal voice... His gossip about his fellow denizens of Desert Greens is mean-spirited but fun... As always, Jonathan Evison excels at setting a scene..."

Eugene spins this tale out to Angel, his favorite caretaker, who goes through the motions of cleaning his room. Angel, a tattooed, twenty-something Chicano, is the perfect foil to cantankerous Eugene. Shrugging it off when Eugene is moody, Angel remains friendly and sincere --- he calls Eugene “dog” and “homie” --- and their burgeoning relationship centers AGAIN AND AGAIN. The book needs centering to keep track of all the plot twists and turns.

In addition to Eugene’s 10th-century life as Euric, he’s been a cat named Whiskers (whose master was Oscar Wilde), among five or six others. Like all good storytellers, Eugene leaves Angel (and us) hanging as he darts between narratives of his various lives, including the one he’s currently living. Eugene is a war hero, a former beloved high school history teacher. He’s also a widower, having finally found Gaya again in this life in the form of a woman named Gladys.

Or is Eugene any of those things? As an alternate life story emerges in dribs and drabs, the reader begins to doubt all of his stories. There are, after all, many similarities between the basement that Eugene’s abusive father kept him in and Euric’s underground jail of the 10th century.

I loved Eugene’s slightly formal voice: “I allowed him this consolation until a genuine curiosity got the best of me.” His gossip about his fellow denizens of Desert Greens is mean-spirited but fun: “Herman is an unnaturally lean, bullet-headed old buzzard who is about as hale and hearty as a paper bag full of cobwebs.” When asked how it feels to be so old, Eugene replies, “Well, imagine being young. Except you’re tired all the time, and you’re no longer ambitious, and nothing tastes as good as it used to, and you have to go to the bathroom all the time.” As always, Jonathan Evison excels at setting a scene: “From my perspective, the age was not so golden. No, it was an age of stale bread and rancid meat, of fetid water, a few dirty coins, and a host of glories beyond my reach.”

I was excited about the novel’s high-concept premise. AGAIN AND AGAIN is entertaining, but as it progressed, lurching between truth and fiction, I grew a little weary of the emphasis on the sadder and crueler aspects of Eugene’s real early life. Still, it makes his late-life redemption by connection with others all the more poignant.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on November 22, 2023

Again and Again
by Jonathan Evison

  • Publication Date: November 7, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • ISBN-10: 0593184157
  • ISBN-13: 9780593184158