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What is Life For?

“Can you tell me?” Aly wrote, “If you can, alas, it’s too late. I’m old, and being tracked by assassins. All that is left for me now is to try to finish this, my story, before they find me. By the time you read it, though, my killers will have done their work, so it is in your actions now that my legacy lies, and it is for you that I’m writing. I’m not the one in danger now – you are, and those you love.”

“If I could warn you of what you are facing in just one sentence, I would. Alas, though, for my terrible warning to make sense, I will have to reveal the most guarded secrets of my life – and those of my family too, a family of artists of the greatest renown, tricksters of outstanding cunning, and assassins of the highest skill, and for all this to be worthwhile – I can hide nothing.”

“I grew up amid great events that you will have heard of, among people of immense fame that you think you know, but what I lived is not what you read, nor what you heard, nor what is written. My family, I am ashamed to say, were the supreme victors of my age, victors not in a way that any but the most evil should emulate, but victors nonetheless. And since they were the victors, they wrote their own history: they were the ones who painted the past we now believe. The tales they led everyone to trust, though, were very far from honest. I know, because they were my family, and because I was there.”

“Here in front of me is a book my younger brother wrote recently, in which he wrote a little of my history. “He is accustomed,” it says, “to live simply and by a certain natural goodness, and knows nothing of subtleties or astuteness in his life.” That is as good a place as any to begin my tale, since it reveals an ailment that many younger brothers suffer from. I am his hero, a god-like being living a charmed and daring life: one that would, I suppose – had it not been shrouded in deception, and fragmented among a dozen aliases – have been as spectacular as any of those whose legendary names echo now down the centuries. But my brother was wrong to believe in heroes. We are all most deeply flawed, and I was not the saintly being he saw me as, which you will very soon see.”

“Nor are younger brothers alone in such self-deception. The fact is that we all live in worlds of our own creation, we all construct grand edifices, palaces (we think) of Truth and Certainty. But they are built using a framework of yarns, of narratives distorted by the retelling, cracked by misunderstanding, and plastered over with stale and ancient lies. We decorate them too, as we navigate our course through life, with pretty fictions to fool ourselves, and mislead others. My tale will reveal just how duplicitous these ‘truths’ really are – not just my brother’s, or mine, but everything that pretends to be the ‘Truth’.”

“The account I offer at first glance seems full of familiar landmarks, but these are mirages and will lead instead to a world like no other: bizarre, incredible, surreal. So beware: entering my world may be like stepping through the frame of one of my grandpa Bosch’s paintings. Except for one thing… once you enter you will never be able to return. Whether you choose to believe what you hear told or not, the question you will discover in its shadows will be for eternity.”

“So if you, like most of us, prefer the comfort and security of the world you think you know, read no further. This book is not for you. If though, you dare to delve beyond the prison walls of your palace, hold tight my hand and read.”