Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Grab a BIG box of tissues, it's time for an ugly cry.

Go ahead. Let it alll out. Get all gross and red and snotty and puffy-eyed. It's good for you. What is it about stories of triumph over and acceptance of human frailty we find so consuming that we read them even though they make us cry in the most unattractive, squished, smooshed, scrunched, snuffling, sobbing, slobbering way--so hard we alarm our mates and choke on snot and can't see the words on the page through the tears--so hard we might have to replace a library book due to water damage? *gasp*
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
"Doctors, as it turns out, need hope too."
I just finished Paul Kalanithi's memoir this week, and boy, is it well written. Kalanithi is the unusual combination of neurosurgeon and literary scholar. His understanding of the human brain and appreciation of the mind, and his ability to put eloquently into text the humbling transition from doctor to patient is powerfully moving. This memoir was published posthumously so I'm not spoiling the ending by saying his brilliant mind was tragically lost too soon to lung cancer. How is it possible for a person to write so elegantly, so intimately, about his own excruciating, unabating pain as he is confronted with his own mortality at what should be such an optimistic time--graduation and a new baby--in a young person's life? He was dying as he wrote this yet it vibrates with life and humanity. At different points in the memoir he refers to a few favorite books that gave him comfort at trying times, one in particular I would also recommend to our readers: The Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Sonali Deraniyagala survived the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in 2004 but lost her husband and their two children. They were swept away from her side by a wave that claimed 230,000 lives in 14 countries but somehow spared hers. In unflinching slow-motion detail she describes the morning of the wave: her family's vacation activities around the hotel room, her dawning realization that they needed to run, grabbing her sons' hands and fleeing the hotel--right up the the moment the Jeep they had jumped into capsized, overtaken by water, and her family was lost. Her anger over the loss of her family, and her struggle to return from the brink of despair while keeping the happy memories of her family alive within her makes for an eviscerating read and a harrowing examination of grief, survivor's guilt, and memory. It takes her a long time to get to the point where she can go to her memories and hold onto them without heading down a rabbit hole of anger and self-loathing. Truthfully, I've never cried so hard while reading a book.

Don't worry your sad faces off, you guys. I'll be back next week to bring you some laugh-so-hard-you'll-ugly-cry books to balance out this week's misery with some well-deserved mirth.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

I love this piece! And I'm very glad to have the warning ahead of time as I prepare myself to read Sonali Deraniyagala's book!