the first half of this book is prose poetry written in what i can best describe as trinidadian english, because that is the island-english i've heardthe first half of this book is prose poetry written in what i can best describe as trinidadian english, because that is the island-english i've heard that most closely approximates the language of this book. maybe it's another island. certainly it's another island. many of the localities have french names. i don't think localities in trinidad have french names.
still, it's the caribbean and life is hell and two women love each other but life is hell and something happens to one of them and the other goes to canada to look for her.
life is hell because it's brutalized by 500 years of slavery and 500 years of exploitation and the island is a prison but also home and life is lived in the dark shadow of trauma.
brand's description of elizete's life in canada is amazing and if you have left your land (any land at all) to move to a north american city you will know exactly what she is talking about. (this is true even if you are coming from another "first world" country, though your life will probably have been infinitely better as far as material conditions are concerned).
the second part is also prose poetry but it's in standard canadian english and the poetry is less surrealistic. this part belongs to elizete's lover, and it too describes hell and Verlia's efforts at making it better by joining a black power movement and trying to organize black people in canada and the caribbean, only to be quashed mercilessly by the US-propped local dictatorships.
you can read this book for the story and you'll be happy you did. you can read this book for the language and you'll be happy you did. you can read this book for the hell and you'll be happy you did.
but you have to be into all three. if you are not, this book will be hard. i found it amazing and now i want to read everything this woman has written. ...more
i didn't read the whole thing but, well, saks is obviously exceptionally bright, and she writes in a really approachable way. she writes sort of philoi didn't read the whole thing but, well, saks is obviously exceptionally bright, and she writes in a really approachable way. she writes sort of philosophically, if you are familiar with the analytic tradition, going through various scenarios and possible objections, covering all the possibilities, and it gets a bit tiring. but it's okay, it's interesting. at the end, though, she does allow for some coercion, not very much but some, and i am not a fan of coercion, none at all, period. it must be said that in her scenarios the coercion happens in a sort of best possible world, i.e. a world in which psych hospitals are nice, good, humane places (which they aren't). in her TED talk she slams both psych hospitals and coercion, no, she slams violence, and i wonder whether that's an evolution (there're about 10 years between this book and her TED talk) or whether the "violence" she descries in the TED talk is not the coercion she accepts in this book.
all in all, though, i wish this were a passionate defense of the autonomy of people suffering from mental pain, and a description of what needs to occur for everyone to be safe and well cared for -- and it isn't. but then she's not a passionate writer. she's a methodical, analytical, dispassionate, almost detached writer, so, well, this is the kind of book she wrote. ...more
this book knocked me for six (this, i'm told, is a cricket-based metaphor. the only other cricket-related sentence i know is "the sound of willow on lthis book knocked me for six (this, i'm told, is a cricket-based metaphor. the only other cricket-related sentence i know is "the sound of willow on leather," which english expats like simon use with a quiver in their voices. this has absolutely nothing to do with this review). lucy grealy writes about her experience with a severely crippling childhood cancer which, besides putting her through years of chemo and radiation therapy with accompanying nausea, pain, terror, ill-being, baldness, and missed classes, also ended up the chopping off of a good chunk of her face. she was 9. it is not clear to me how happy her childhood had been till then. maybe it's not clear to her, either. but it is abundantly clear that the narrator of this memoir had an excruciatingly painful life at least starting at the age of nine till when she died of a drug overdose at 39 (while i don't doubt that she had moments of relief and even happiness, very few of these moments make their appearance in this memoir, and when they do they are a set up for further, more devastating falls).
the genius of this book is not the cancer narrative per se, but the narrative of a childhood trauma so powerful that it empties a soul from inside out and cuts away those tenuous, undefinable, yet essential resources that allow one to navigate life and find solace and comfort in the company of others and especially oneself. grealy's deepest disability is emotional.
since lucy grealy has a fabulous way with words and with feelings and sees really deep inside her pain, she depicts her cancer in the context of a family life marred by great emotional abstinence and isolation. adults are not good to lucy. the doctor who gives her her weekly injections of chemotherapy is always on the phone (yes, he gives her chemo while talking on the phone to someone else) and relates to her as if she were an orange instead of a child. they don't even exchange a word. for three years.
mom and dad, though obviously devoted to their children (if i remember correctly there are six of them, and lucy is a twin), fail to connect with lucy's pain either because they cannot deal with their own pain or because they are too ashamed and embarrassed (i.e. cannot deal with their own pain). by willing lucy's pain away and castigating her (gently but firmly) for complaining when she suffers, lucy's mother puts little lucy in a space in which pain is shameful and a sign of weakness. the adult author knows all too well that denying pain its devastation proliferates it and makes it fester, yet she can only look at the damage that was done and report on it. there is no transcendence in grealy's life.
a lot is made of peers' teasing (i can't imagine such horrible and relentless teasing happening when/where i was a child; ostracizing, gawking, and isolating, sure, but teasing like that? i don't think so. did i grow up in fairyland?), while hardly any mention is made of siblings. where are lucy's siblings, where is her twin while she walks to school among jeerings and attacks?
controversy arose when ann patchett published a memoir of her friendship with grealy. apparently patchett wasn't very kind to grealy's family. suellen grealy, lucy's older sister, felt moved to put out an angry article in defense of her family, her mother in particular. my review of this book has nothing to do with the reality of grealy's family, her siblings, her parents. it has to do only with the story the narrator of Autobiography of a Face tells us. she chooses to leave out her siblings and to depict her parents as emotionally unavailable. this has nothing to do with the reality of these things. nothing. anyone who misses this distinction does the grealy family the injustice suellen laments in her article.
having said this, i also want to say that, within the story, the traumatic impact of lucy's cancer is exponentially magnified by the bad emotional handling she gets from parents and doctors. in this sense, this is a tremendous testimony to the power of context in the genesis of devastating trauma....more