This has been a summer of devouring books. All I want to do is sit and read. The other morning I walked to get some breakfast and a coffee and took it up to Prospect Park with about half of Simon Van Booy’s Everything Beautiful Began After. I thought that I would stay for a half hour or so, but I got so lost that I remained on my shady bench for almost two hours and finished the book. It left me a bit speechless and heartbroken, so I was glad to have been in the park and have a walk home to begin to process.
The story begins with a prologue from the voice of a ten year old girl, simple and poetic; she is a newcomer to thinking about life. She hopes to hear her parents’ love story at dinner and the prologue ends with: “All she knows is that someone fell, and that everything beautiful began after,” (7). Then the story begins and the reader is left not knowing which characters are the parents to this child.
The book is set in Athens and the three main characters all went there in an attempt to escape not necessarily their lives, but the pain they have long carried with them. Rebecca has left her job as a flight attendant to pursue painting. George is there to study ancient languages. Henry is there as a archaeologist. The friendship and love that follows is beautiful and unexpected. Then the story is wrought with tragedy, in the city of ancient Greek tragedy. It is clear that this is a story not just about these characters, but about the coping and living with brokenness that people have done for all of time. The second half follows how the characters try to pick up the pieces:
The end of the book comes back to the girl from the prologue and I found myself thinking about how in her story, everything beautiful began after people born before her experienced great pain. That switch in perspective is beautiful in and of itself.