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The Book of Dahlia
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The Book of Dahlia

3.26 of 5 stars 3.26  ·  rating details  ·  868 ratings  ·  206 reviews
From the author of the critically acclaimed story collection How This Night Is Different comes a dark, arresting, fearlessly funny story of one young woman's terminal illness. In The Book of Dahlia, Elisa Albert walks a dazzling line between gravitas and irreverence, mining an exhilarating blend of skepticism and curiosity, compassion and candor, high and low culture.

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Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 10th 2009 by Free Press (first published 2008)
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Jessica
Sep 03, 2008 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: NPR Weekend Edition
Dahlia is a 29 year old, profane, pot smoking, leach who lives off her father; perennially consoling him with promises of graduate school. Truthfully, Dahlia doesn't have much interest in anything outside her Venice, California home. When a grand mal seizure brings a large and malignant brain tumor to the forefront of her consciousness, Dahlia must undergo a series of painful treatments and fight to survive. But the truth is, she isn't sure that she wants to fight or survive. Characteristically, ...more
Natalie
I was expecting certain things from this novel: a smart-ass protagonist, contemporary cultural references, dark humor, and maybe some cheesy Life Lessons since it's about terminal illness. Thankfully, I found only the first three.

Female anti-heroes are pretty rare -- and Dahlia is prizeworthy as a creation who will stick in your memory. Prickly-sympathetic, her rough edges are not dulled by platitudes or chicklit conventions. The novel's structure is in fact the anti-chick novel, which is prett
...more
Krista
A very readable rant from the perspective of a messed-up JAP in her late twenties with terminal cancer.

Summed up beautifully in an aside aimed at the reader;

"Why so profane, ask the bookclubbers? Because we are talking here about death, and f*ck you if you don't like it: You're going to die, too. This is serious. F*ck, f*ck, f*ck."

Dying young is like those days when you just can't bring yourself to go to bed ...

"Night Disease: the imperative that they just keep going. Now Dahlia understood it p
...more
Kari
eh. When I first started this book I was really into it. I thought there was some interesting stuff between the mother and the daughter, and very honest commentary when Dahlia was reflecting back on her childhood. (I am the mother of 2 daughters.) But then, it just got annoying, and I had to force myself to skim to the end. (I rarely stop reading a book I have made it to the half way mark of.) I picked this up from the recommendation by EW, and I understand, kindof, why they liked it--it's got l ...more
sarah
It’s funny to me that most of the reviews I’ve read of this novel, the central point of the story, arguably the reason we meet Dahlia – her cancer diagnosis, for the love of god – is glossed over. Dahlia is annoying. Dahlia is a slacker. Dahlia is a miserable fuck who can’t pry her privileged ass off the couch, and I’m glad I don’t know her in real life. Sure, all of these things might be true. However, it is these qualities which allow the real brilliance of the story to shine through. The way ...more
Andrew
That clichéd adolescent love affair with razor blades, the thinly veiled suicide threats. A handful of broken or non-existent condoms, semen of unworthy men who cared not at all for her absorbed into her body, microscopic invaders. (Cervical cancer would’ve at least made some sense! But brain? What the fuck?)

And what about people who wouldn’t let you hold their babies, who gave excuses about germs or attachment or whatever?

Locking eyes with homeless people and then giving them no change, none at
...more
Amy S. Foster
Dahlia Finger is dying. We know this from the very get go. But even before her first grand mal you get a sense that what she's doing in her little house in Venice isnt really living either. So this book makes the point, if you sit around and waste your life and hold on to pain instead of moving forward, if you never really do Anything (yes the capital A) is your life forfiet? We flip from Dahlia's illness in the present, to her past. Truthfully, her past sucked. She bitches a lot about it in the ...more
Rita
There are spoilers here, I guess.

I didn't read the whole book. I couldn't. I thought it was going to be like Night Swimming by Robin Schwarz, or the movie Last Holiday, but it became apparent a few chapters in that there was to be no chick lit fun to be had, no misdiagnosis, no lessons lessons learned where the spoiled girl has a new lease on life. So, I just couldn't keep reading, even though it seemed like a very good book--well written, darkly humorous, smart, sarcastic and touching. There w
...more
Marie
Dahlia Finger, a selfish, shallow, foul-mouthed, and stoner Jewish American princess who was conceived on a kibbutz, has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at the young age of 29.

In search of answers, she finds a self-help guide in an effort to help her grapple with her cancer and impending demise. And she begins looking back on her shambles of a life.

Dahlia is not particularly likable, but as her childhood memories come forth, it's clear why she got to be the way she is. When her fla
...more
Merredith
My friend recomended this book to me and I really tried to read it. This is a novel about a woman in her late 20s named Dahlia. She is spoiled and lazy. Her dad pays for everything, she has no job, no hobbies, all she does is smoke pot and watch tv. She doesn't even really have friends. One day she has a seizure and discovers she has a brain tumor and is dying. It's sad. But even though i feel badly for Dahlia, she's annoying. She's grating and her family is grating and the story is boring. I on ...more
george
This book blows. Seriously. Dahlia is an over-privileged 29-year-old who hates her life. Convenient because she's got a brain tumor and she's dying. So she sits around and reflects on her shitty life--pretty much what she's been doing for years already. She follows a guide to cancer, arguing in her head with the author along the way. I don't like the character. There's nothing to like about the character. She's self-absorbed, full of pity for herself and blocks everyone else out (which, is kind ...more
Jorayne
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Betsy
Can a novel about a twenty-something with a fatal brain tumor really be funny? This one was, largely because the potty-mouthed, pothead protagonist Dahlia Finger has such a bad attitude about life in general and cancer in particular. She's pissed off and honest and doesn't put up with any B.S. Got to admire that. The author starts each chapter with a sunny snippet from a cancer advice book, then reveals another interesting chunk of Dahlia's mess of a life which includes near abandonment early in ...more
Jay Ensley
How did Elisa Albert do it? How did she make the story of the end of a wasted life break my heart?

Let me count the ways:

First, she establishes an authentic voice. Dahlia becomes the fear most of us have that our lives will not amount to enough.

Second, she gives Dahlia a brilliant voice; intelligent and clever, witty, bitterly wise and frustratingly frightened, Dahlia becomes the friend we want to keep away from our other friends, but whom we would not want to lose.

Third, and then we lose her. Th
...more
Jennifer
I so wanted to like this book. It started off promising--funny and irreverent and quirky--but not that far into it, the novelty of it began to wear off for me. What started off as an original writing voice soon became grating and gimmicky and tiresome--which also pretty much sums up the pot-smoking, self-absorbed, slacker of a main character.
Renee
Dahlia is a 29 year old depressed, witty young woman who learns she has an aggressive, inoperable brain tumor. This book deals with Dahlia acknowledging the end of her life is near. However, after a life time of annoying interactions of her Jewish-mother, this may not seem like the worse thing....
McKenzie
This is a veiled argument with the theme of, “Who deserves life.” An enraged Dahlia almost completely full of invectives is shown with a strong anti-optimistic outlook. This is a hard to read book of ‘reckoning,’ focused on an unsympathetic character struck by a terminal brain tumor. Dahlia is traumatically wounded by paper cuts of slightly adverse childhood experiences. She is nihilistic without the philosophical grounding. She is via negative without much range. She is consciously narcissistic ...more
Sarah
I loved the shit out of this book. I bought copies of it for two of my close friends and only after that realized that perhaps this book is not for everyone. I know I have a different sense of humor and as such found myself laughing at the narration when other people might be frustrated with Dahlia. So Dahlia isn't the kind of person I would want to be in my life, in fact I'm sure I would avoid her at all costs but she makes for an interesting character and it's a fantastic story. I must also ad ...more
Jane
Maybe I need to broaden my scope of fiction, but this is the first and only book that I’ve read with a temper-tantrum protagonist. Eliza Albert succeeds in taking a very unlikable, seemingly uninteresting, unsympathetic, and infuriating character and uses all these faults as reasons to like the character. Dahlia, even with her anger and rude comments, is compelling enough to follow throughout an entire novel. Albert softens Dahlia’s reactions exactly at the right moment so that the reader has ti ...more
Melanie
Pulled this out of the book closet. Hard to say I "enjoyed" it, exactly, but I really liked it, found it well-written and engaging, a, yes, funny book about cancer. The main character, the eponymous Dahlia, is dying of brain cancer. How does Albert keep this from cloying tragedy? Dahlia is a pain in the neck. At the point in her life when she is diagnosed with the cancer, she is living in a cute little house in Venice, CA, which her father bought for her, and sitting around all day smoking pot a ...more
Pam Gary
I'm a breast cancer patient; and I thank-you for writing an honest story about the emotions of cancer. Elisa Albert has either experienced cancer herself or with someone she is close to, or she did a tremendous amount of research for the book. It is very real. To a previous reviewer who did not like the fact that Dahlia's father was taking all the notes in the doctor's meeting, and Dahlia was not participating--guess what--you really need someone there taking notes. I did, too. When my doctor lo ...more
Rosa
There are so many ways that authors can deal with death and dying. In "The Book of Dahlia", by Elisa Albert, dying is a bitter thing. Albert writes about Dahlia Finger, a twenty-nine year old, spoiled Jewish woman who gets diagnosed with brain cancer. Albert has the reader follow Dahlia after she is diagnosed as she revisits the history of her life, her family, and her friendships. Each chapter of the book is written like a self-help novel, but there is nothing self-help about this book. Albert ...more
Rachel
I remember debating, when I read Elisa's book of short stories, if I might like a profane protagonist better in her novel, and indeed I did. Dahlia's dark history made me forgive her in a way that I didn't feel for the others.

I suppose my reaction to Dahlia was largely personal- I felt awful for her when she was being victimized and trod upon, and my sympathy tended to dissipate when she'd screw around with her friends who cared about her or especially when she got a near-perfect score on her GR
...more
amy cale peterson
Um I really wish I read this book with a book club because I feel like I missed something. I feel like I was so disgusted with the main character that I couldn't get beyond my own disgust to see what all the amazing reviews saw. Perhaps her cynicism is too similar to my own that I chose to hate her and her dark and depressing views on life. The small moments of hope were so outweighed by her hatred of her past, her resentment of her family (yes, earned; and yes, forgiveness is difficult; but com ...more
Nicole
Very well written, compelling, honest, brutal. I'm not sure I'd read it again--I probably would have given it 4 1/2. Maybe the subject is keeping me from giving it 5 stars!

I never write reviews (until today), and had to add more in response to some of the other reviews.

There may have been many things annoying about this girl. We could easily say: just deal with the bad things that have happened to you and move on--which she obviously was incapable of doing. I think it's unfair to categorize he
...more
Catrina Edgar
I really appreciated Albert's ability to make incredibly funny (even hilarious at times) a novel about a young woman with terminal brain cancer. Very hard to do. In fact, I thought it was brilliant. There wasn't a single moment in which I felt saddened by her cancer. However, there were other aspects of her life and situation in which I WAS able to sympathize. With that being said, the sarcastic humor may have been the only thing about the book that I felt was spectacular, or even good, really. ...more
Kim V
Cancer is not usually a humorous topic. The Book of Dahlia by Elsa Albert, however, manages to bring levity to this weighty subject matter.

While some readers may be put off by Albert’s sharp, gallows, humor, it should be noted that the author lost her brother, David, to a brain tumor when he was twenty nine and she was nineteen. Hence, she knows the delicate terrain she’s traversing.

Dahlia Finger is not a saintly, dying, heroine like Little Women's Beth. Rather Dahlia is profane slacker who ha
...more
Abby Rosmarin
I bought this book as a used hardcover book (without the book jacket). This meant that I went into reading this book not knowing the synopsis -- I knew only what I had gathered from reading the first few pages before buying it, and that was the main character was a slacker. I think this book packs an emotional punch, but even more so for me because I had no clue what was in store for Dahlia. I ate the book up in about a day or two. The author is really good at making the audience feel a conflict ...more
David Jay
I got this book because of the incredible reviews. (EW ranked it as the number 2 book of 2008). For me it was just a matter of poor timing--probably not the best book for me to read at this moment in my life.

Dahlia is a 29 year old ne'er do well--no friends, no job, all she wants to do (and all she pretty much does) is lay on the couch all day, smoke pot, and watch tv, until she has a grand mal seizure at the end of chapter one and is diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. Uplifting and inspiratio
...more
Nancy
Dahlia is a 30-something slacker, funded generously by her father. She is generally so stoned, depressed, and apathetic that it's hard for her to tell if her lack of energy and vague headache is really anything new. It's not until a guy she's casually dating finds her passed out and choking on her own vomit that she ends up in the hospital diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Every kid dreams of their divorced parents getting back together, and Dahlia's illness certainly brings her mother d ...more
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Elisa Albert is the author of the short story collection How This Night is Different, the novel The Book of Dahlia, and the editor of Freud's Blind Spot: Writers on Siblings. Albert is a founding editor of Jewcy.com and an adjunct assistant professor of creative writing at Columbia University. Her writing has appeared on NPR and in Tin House, Salon, The Rumpus, and in several anthologies. Her new ...more
More about Elisa Albert...
How This Night Is Different: Stories Freud's Blind Spot: 23 Original Essays on Cherished, Estranged, Lost, Hurtful, Hopeful, Complicated Siblings After Birth Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York

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“It's decidedly bizzare, when the Worst Thing hppens and you find yourself still conscious, still breathing.” 20 likes
“She developed a kind of disdain for her only sibling usually reserved for despotic political regimes and perpetrators of genocide.” 3 likes
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