Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Holding Silvan: A Brief Life” as Want to Read:
Holding Silvan: A Brief Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Holding Silvan: A Brief Life

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  255 ratings  ·  61 reviews
In the opening of Holding Silvan: A Brief Life, Monica Wesolowska gives birth to her first child, a healthy-seeming boy who is taken from her arms for “observation” when he won’t stop crying. Within days, Monica and her husband have been given the grimmest of prognoses for Silvan, and they must make a choice about his life. The story that follows is not a story of typical ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Hawthorne Books (first published January 1st 2013)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Holding Silvan, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Holding Silvan

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.29  · 
Rating details
 ·  255 ratings  ·  61 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Holding Silvan: A Brief Life
Monica Wesolowska
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
So it’s true, I wrote this book. I didn’t mean to write a review of it, but through a slip of the hand, as I was learning about Goodreads, I accidentally gave it one star; and now the only way to erase the ignominy of having given my own book one star seems to be to give it four more. But it’s also true that I think this is a five-star book, the kind of book I’d want to write, the kind of book I’d want to read. I love spending time with my newborn Silvan again, I’m relieved by the honesty with w ...more
Peter Derk
I'm hoping that if I leave no star rating it won't affect the overall rating of this book. Honestly, it's my preference not to give a star rating for this one.

I have no real earthly idea how a person would workshop or edit something like this. This, the story of a baby born so severely brain damaged that the parents choose to let him die. The loss in the book only begins there. How do you work with this book, the prose or the choices made, how do you make criticisms about what happens without f
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
You'd think a book about the short life and death of a brain-damaged baby would be (1) depressing and (2) maudlin or sentimental, but this is completely *not* the case for Holding Silvan.

Monica Wesolowska writes about this experience with clarity and wisdom. What shines through is the love that she and her husband felt for Silvan, where they made the decision not to use extreme measures to keep him alive but instead to give him the best possible life and to hold him for every minute of his 38 da
Ericka Lutz
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Holding Silvan is radiant with love and brilliantly written. I absolutely could not stop reading, and when I looked up, hours had gone by. It's a wonderful and deeply moving book about Love, and how to love fully no matter how briefly. It's also a fascinating exploration of the ethics involved in right-to-death issues. Never grim and never sugar-coated, Wesolowska tells her story of holding her baby -- for weeks -- as he died from brain injuries sustained during delivery with full-frontal honest ...more
Keilani Ludlow
Mar 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book as a Goodreads give away.

Holding Silvan

Wow, what a book to review. It’s no spoiler to say that the author has written this book about her experience with her infant’s death. The author was a little hard for me as a person to warm to or relate to. At least in the beginning. She is just so darn matter of fact about things. She and her husband are an odd combination of belief systems, which is of course a huge factor in the life of anyone who is losing a child. She is a non-pra
Lauren DePino
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Holding Silvan is a narrative of love. It’s both heart wrenching and devastating to endure Monica’s journey with her. Yet, overwhelmingly, Monica’s love for Silvan is stronger than Silvan’s death. Her love outshines tragedy. This makes the story (dare I say) hopeful. By the end of the book, I am welling with my own love for Silvan. I feel like I’ve held him and known him and I am better off because of it. Silvan’s legacy is bright and beautiful, and I feel lucky to carry this brightness and beau
Oct 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was deeply moved by this book about a mother whose first son lives a little bit more than a month. Monica's writing style is so honest and open.

She talks about real feelings There is anger as she lashes out at the doctors who can't help and can't face death themselves. There are the loving nurses, the mother-in-law who does not know what to do, the anguished husband and well-meaning but offensive friends. I appreciated the breadth and depth of her feelings that she expresses so accurately as
Literary Mama
Oct 17, 2013 added it
Shelves: memoir
Grief memoirs are plentiful. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name come to mind. Topics of death and dying in our culture are not as stigmatized when they pertain to terminal illness or accidental death. However, we see a serious lack when it comes to books about grieving the babies we may lose to miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. In taking us step-by-step through Silvan’s brief life and lasting significance, Wesolowska’s memoir provides a bridge ...more
Julia Scheeres
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful ode to a newborn son who died. How do we honor a baby's life, however brief? What constitutes a life worth living? How can we make a horribly tragic death more meaningful? These and other questions faced Monica and her husband when their son Silvan was born with severe brain damage. In this brave book, Monica recounts their decision to bring their son home instead of leaving him to die in the impersonal surroundings of the hospital, and the agonizing, moment-by-momentness of that dec ...more
Jul 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The topic of this memoir is gripping—perhaps daunting to some—but read it not just for the unique story and complex perspective on an ethical issue most would avoid talking about in private, let alone public; read it for the spare, striking prose and unsentimental observations of real people in the midst of as well as on the frontlines and periphery of tragedy. Wesolowska wastes no time on platitudes and banalities. She tells the raw truth, the one we all live, whatever our griefs and joys.
Louise Aronson
Jun 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: patient-books
Slim and beautiful memoir of the death of a newborn first child. That makes it sound unbearable but while it is appropriately sad, the book is also full of insights, humor, love and honesty and without saccharine so a total pleasure to read
Add this to the list of incredibly difficult things to read. Monica Wesolowska gives birth to a perfect son after a typical pregnancy, but it's clear from the beginning that there is something very wrong with her son Silvan. She and her husband David are forced to make an incredibly difficult decision: do they continue to keep their son alive, even though he will only exist in a vegetative state for the rest of his life, or do they allow their son to die with dignity?

This was very difficult for
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"I asked to borrow this book from a friend when I saw it at her house and read the beginning, then ended up buying it for myself and reading the whole rest of it in one sitting while I told husband, children, and dog to leave me alone for heaven's sake. Reading this book feels very important because of the story it tells: a couple struggling to understand and make decisions after their first born child suffers massive brain damage during delivery.

This is a memoir and Weslowska doesn't back away
Oct 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-read
*****I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review*****

When I first learned that I would be given a chance to read this book I was extremely excited! I was hooked from the moment I read the synopsis of the story. I knew it wasn't going to be an easy read. There wasn't going to be a happy ending to Silvan's story. But FINALLY someone was willing to tell their story so the world can understand what it is like for families to lose a child, as this happens all too o
Rebecca Thvedt
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. My sister loved it, and so did my daughter. I cried, of course, when I read it, in the Mall of America while waiting for one of my other daughters to finish shopping with her friend. It is very sad. My oldest daughter mentioned to me today that she read it, thought it was a wonderful book, and that she cried on the subway reading it in Taipei. It's powerful. Well worth a read. So much so that I read it twice more. It is very well written, and very touching -- a wonderful tribu ...more
Goldee Gross
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have to admit having known what this book was about, it took me a few months of glancing at it on my bedside table to finally get the courage to read it. That being said, I would urge others not to wait so long to read this incredible book !
The author has bravely written about an agonizing life experience . Her visceral love for her dying child is so beautifully portrayed and pulls you quickly into her story. She writes with honesty , clarity in the mist of uncertainty and even slips in every
Eliza Patten
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I think the quote from Vaclav Havel in the beginning of the book really sets the tone: "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." This book really is about the triumph of hope in the purest sense--hope that love will conquer all, even death. To not turn away, but to have the courage to face and bear immeasurable pain in the conviction that love itself is enough--this is humbling to read and consider ...more
Jason Beem
Jul 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I bought this almost strictly because it was a Hawthorne Book and I love all their books. Well this one, I knew was a tough premise and I knew was going to be an emotional read, as I read it during the month of the anniversary of my father's passing. But Monica Wesolowska handles the story so tenderly and lovingly and even though there was so much sadness in the story, the love burst straight off the page and into the readers' heart. Thank you Monica for sharing Silvan's story. He is amazing. ...more
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a powerful memoir that, despite the weight of the topic, and the terrible and unique situation in which the author and her partner found themselves, seemed to me like a novel with both a compelling story and characters whose choices, reactions, and interactions surprised me and kept me reading. The fact that Wesolowska kept the self-pity at bay allowed the story to unfold for me in a very raw way.
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book. While it is easy to look at the death of a baby and see only the tragedy, here we are also treated to seeing a lifetime of love, distilled into six weeks. This is not an easy read. It may challenge your beliefs about life, death. But you should read it because, more than anything, it is a love story, and a beautiful one at that.
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
I don't usually actually review books but since I won this is a goodreads giveaway I thought I would write a little review for it.

I normally don't read this kid of book, but this was good! It was kind of mature for me but it was still interesting. I'm sure if I read it in the future I will have a better understanding of the situations and the choices that had to be made.
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
*I received a copy of this book via Goodreads giveaways - thank you!!*

Wow. What a heartbreakingly beautiful little book. And it is not just for moms - it's for anyone with a heart. Her honesty is truly humbling.
At this point (waaay past my bedtime) I don't know what more I can say. Just read it. I recommend it to everybody.
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a refreshingly straightforward and honest account of losing a newborn child due to a brain injury that occurred during birth. Although it is not made explicit in the book and I wasn't able to verify online, I believe the hospital where most of the book takes place is Children's Hospital Oakland. ...more
Erin Price
Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This memoir was incredible. I saw a recommendation online as a side of parenting you don't see a lot of writing about, making the choice to let a child go. I cried several times but what sticks with me is how much joy the author and her husband and the rest of her family took in the time they had with their son. ...more
Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

This was a really beautiful book. It was heartbreaking. It just really broke my heart. This book is very well written. I definitely recommend it.
Deanna Korte
Jul 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
An account of birth and a baby's month of life you don't see often. Monica Wesolowska's son Silvan suffers brain damage during birth and will ultimately die. Silvan's parents must make a heartbreaking decision as to how to best support him during his brief life. ...more
Andrea (formerly Amadeus)
This is a challenging book to read because it is a journey of grief and suffering. Yet, at the same time, it is about people loving the best they know how to in the midst of those times. It's not on us to necessarily agree with their choices but to trust they they did and loved their best.

I am also not the kind of person who believes every story should be overwhelmingly joyous. We are united with humanity through joy, yet just as much (if, perhaps more so) through grief.

I think this is a book
Jun 22, 2013 marked it as to-read
Sarah Karr Crabtree brought this book to the Ladies Summer Reading Tea - 2013 - got choked up in telling about it - a newborn baby who doesn't live long (I believe). The Mult County Library doesn't have it for some reason which is frustrating because I just went to Powells and didn't remember I wanted it... Patience... or maybe I'll walk down there right now. Ah Summer! Need to mow the lawn, do some watering and weeding - but it's summer and the Ladies Summer Reading Tea book list is burning a h ...more
Amy Young
May 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Their son Silvan was denied oxygen during birth, rendering Silvan severly brain damaged and unable to live without life support. His parents made the tough choice to quit feeding him and it took far longer for him to die than anticipated. Oh for the day this won't happen! ...more
Dec 02, 2013 marked it as do-not-read
I'm putting this on my do-not-read list for now, because I just don't think I can deal with a book about a dying newborn, but at the same time I want to keep tabs on it because it sounds like a worthwhile read. ...more
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Girl Out of Water
  • I Came All This Way to Meet You: Writing Myself Home
  • The Beauty in Breaking
  • Concrete Rose (The Hate U Give, #0)
  • The Angle of Flickering Light
  • Trust Exercise
  • Weather
  • Mostly Dead Things
  • True Biz
  • The Need
  • Black Buck
  • Nightcrawling
  • Thick: And Other Essays
  • World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments
  • Beauty in the Breaking: Reflections on Stillbirth (a short memoir)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Dead Certain (Broden Legal #1)
  • Severance
See similar books…
Monica Wesolowska (author of the memoir HOLDING SILVAN: A BRIEF LIFE which was named a Best Book of 2013 by The Boston Globe) has two debut children's picture book forthcoming! LEO + LEA will be published by Scholastic in Spring 2022, with illustrations by the amazing Kenard Pak and ELBERT IN THE AIR will be published by Dial in Fall 2022 with illustrations by the amazing Jerome Pumphrey. A teache ...more

Related Articles

Across the U.S., many high-school seniors are entering the nail-biting period of waiting for college admissions decisions. While the die has been...
30 likes · 7 comments