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The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After

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As a young mother facing a terminal diagnosis, Julie Yip-Williams began to write her story, a story like no other. What began as the chronicle of an imminent and early death became something much more--a powerful exhortation to the living.

That Julie Yip-Williams survived infancy was a miracle. Born blind in Vietnam, she narrowly escaped euthanasia at the hands of her grandmother, only to flee with her family the political upheaval of her country in the late 1970s. Loaded into a rickety boat with three hundred other refugees, Julie made it to Hong Kong and, ultimately, America, where a surgeon at UCLA gave her partial sight. She would go on to become a Harvard-educated lawyer, with a husband, a family, and a life she had once assumed would be impossible. Then, at age thirty-seven, with two little girls at home, Julie was diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer, and a different journey began.

The Unwinding of the Miracle is the story of a vigorous life refracted through the prism of imminent death. When she was first diagnosed, Julie Yip-Williams sought clarity and guidance through the experience and, finding none, began to write her way through it--a chronicle that grew beyond her imagining. Motherhood, marriage, the immigrant experience, ambition, love, wanderlust, tennis, fortune-tellers, grief, reincarnation, jealousy, comfort, pain, the marvel of the body in full rebellion--this book is as sprawling and majestic as the life it records. It is inspiring and instructive, delightful and shattering. It is a book of indelible moments, seared deep--an incomparable guide to living vividly by facing hard truths consciously.

With humor, bracing honesty, and the cleansing power of well-deployed anger, Julie Yip-Williams set the stage for her lasting legacy and one final miracle: the story of her life.

315 pages, Hardcover

First published January 8, 2019

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About the author

Julie Yip-Williams

5 books55 followers
Julie Yip-Williams died in March 2018 of colon cancer. She was born in Tam-Ky, Vietnam, just as the war was ending, grew up in Monterey Park, California, and graduated from Williams College and Harvard Law School. At her death she was forty-two, and lived in Brooklyn with her husband, Josh, and their daughters, Mia and Isabelle.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,396 reviews
Profile Image for Bkwmlee.
405 reviews309 followers
March 25, 2019
A few of my library holds came in recently so I am taking a much-needed break from the ARCs I’ve been working through in the hopes that I am able to finish the books before they are due back to the library. One book that I’ve been wanting to read since I heard of its publication earlier in the year is Julie Yip-Williams’s posthumously published memoir The Unwinding of the Miracle . Julie died a year ago, in March 2018, succumbing to metastatic colon cancer at the age of 42. Back when she was diagnosed in 2013, Julie tried to seek guidance through experiences that were already out there, but couldn’t find any that dealt with her unique situation, so she decided to write her own. She started a blog where she chronicled not only her battle with the cancer that she knew would eventually kill her, but also her life journey, one made even more harrowing by the fact that she was born blind back in the 1970s in war-torn Vietnam and because her grandmother felt there was no hope for her given the circumstances, she would’ve died at 2 months old if not for a kindly herbalist who spared her life. Julie’s life was defined by constantly beating the odds and proving to everyone time and time again that she would not let her disability hold her back — in addition to having traveled all 7 continents on her own by the time she reached 30 years old, she also graduated from Harvard, became a lawyer in a prestigious law firm in New York, married the man of her dreams, and gave birth to 2 beautiful girls.

Given the incredible odds she had to overcome, it’s no surprise that one of Julie’s first reactions to her diagnosis was anger. In the blog posts recording her “journey” post-diagnosis, Julie wrote candidly about her experiences, revealing her innermost thoughts and fears, her strengths and weaknesses, and most notably, the emotional roller coaster that she found herself on nearly every day. The narrative veers more toward despair than hope, though an incredible amount of love shines through as well. Ultimately, writing [this book] was what helped Julie release her anger and eventually find peace with the inevitable, which I feel is tremendously important.

Some of the other reviews of this book mention the repetitiveness of the narrative and writing that seemed, at times, to be all over the place. While these concerns were certainly valid, I personally was not bothered by them, especially given the context of how this book came to be (in an interview last month, Julie’s husband Josh Williams said that 80% of the book was from the blog she had started after the diagnosis and the remaining 20% was from an old manuscript she had written several years prior, before they had children, which was about Julie’s childhood and being born blind). What I appreciated the most about this book was the raw honesty with which Julie recounted everything that happened to her, including preparations for her own imminent death. In taking such a brutally honest approach, Julie oftentimes did not mince words, which, understandably, did make some of this book a little uncomfortable to read – but again, keeping in mind the fact that much of what was written originally there was no intention to commercialize (the book deal wasn’t solidified until late 2017 – several months before Julie’s death), I found it unfair to lay down any type of judgement whatsoever as it pertained to the writing and the content.

For me, this was an eye-opening yet heart-breaking read, but I am grateful that I got the chance to read it. In extending my deepest condolences to Josh Williams and the rest of the family for their loss, I do hope they are able to find comfort in the fact that, through this book, Julie’s story has the potential to touch many, many people.

Lastly, I wanted to provide a link to an interview that Julie’s husband Josh Williams did in February 2019, which I feel is a great companion piece to the book and is important in the additional context it provides: https://www.vulture.com/2019/02/josh-...
Profile Image for Erica.
727 reviews199 followers
February 8, 2019
In the vein of Until I Say Goodbye: A Book about Living, When Breath Becomes Air, and The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, The Unwinding of the Miracle is an incredibly personal memoir about death and dying but that is ultimately, triumphantly, about life and living.

This isn't one of those books targeted at cancer patients, cancer survivors, and their families. This is a book with a powerful message for everyone: life can be terribly unfair sometimes, and it's devastating. You're allowed to mourn. You're allowed to feel sorry for yourself. But don't let it take over your life: life is for living, and there is so much living left to do.

I have lived even as I am dying, and therein lies a certain beauty and wonder. As it turned out, I have spent these years unwinding the miracle that has been my life, but on my terms.

Julie Yip-Williams was in her mid thirties when she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. The diagnosis came out of nowhere: Julie was healthy and in the best shape of her life. What started out as a stomach ache or bout with flu abruptly resulted in a life-changing declaration: you have cancer. Julie is devastated, not only that she might die at a tragically young age, but at the thought that she might leave her two young daughters to grow into womanhood without a mother and leave her husband without a wife and partner.

But Julie is resilient: remembering her earliest years, she muses that she should never have survived childhood. Born with cataracts in Communist Vietnam, Julie’s grandmother urged Julie’s parents to take baby Julie to a herbalist to obtain something to make the baby go to sleep and never wake up. It was better to be dead than to live with blindness. Grandmother feared that should Julie live, she would become a shameful burden to her family. Miraculously, Julie lived, and not long thereafter immigrated to American with her family, where she eventually received medical attention, but far too late, and as a result is legally blind.

Julie’s life story is incredible. If nothing else, this book is worth reading just for her autobiography! Being born with blindness of course caused Julie to feel anger at times, but she ultimately prevailed. The rage at the unfairness of it all drove Julie toward success: she traveled the world, graduated from Harvard Law School, practiced law at a firm in New York City, married the love of her life, and raised two beautiful daughters.

The cancer diagnosis changed everything for Julie. She asks her readers: how is it possible to survive almost being killed by her family as a baby, only to be diagnosed with cancer thirty years later? She confronts her anger and depression and is able to embrace a positive attitude, but remains skeptical of “hope,” and the crushing sadness never truly leaves. This book is raw and personal; it is literally Julie’s diary entries and blog posts. As a writer, she is absolutely honest – not overly cheery or optimistic, Julie has a positive outlook some days, but is overwhelmed by depression on other days. She takes us to the doctor, to chemo, and to her daughters’ school events. It’s jarring to read the sections recounting her medical experience with the passages chronicling the mundane details of daily life. The juxtaposition of these passages is shocking.

I’ve read quite a few books about being diagnosed with and living with cancer, but The Unwinding of the Miracle is undoubtedly one of the best I have read (if you enjoy this book, I recommend reading Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer next). Julie’s honestly is heartbreaking. It undid me: at times her writing is so raw and personal that it felt like an invasion of privacy to read. She captures the wide range of sometimes contradictory emotions that accompany a cancer diagnosis, and the challenges of retaining an identity as a mother and wife after receiving the new identity of a cancer patient. I tore through this book in only a few sittings, and by the end I was sobbing. This is the kind of book that can change your life. I really mean that. This is so much more than a book about cancer. It’s a book about love, family, motherhood, hope, and living with joy.

And for any who might be reading this: I am grateful to have had you here, on this journey. I would presume to encourage you to to relish your time, to not be disabled by trials or numbed by routine, to say yes as much as you can, and to mock the probabilities. Luxuriate in your sons and daughters, husbands and wives. And live, friends. Just live. Travel. Get some stamps in those passports.

My only criticism (and I’m not even deducting a star; this book is THAT good) is that a little more editing is needed. Some of Julie’s stories were told over and over again (especially the stories from her early childhood), and the book could do without all that repetition. There was also an entire chapter about Roger Federer that seemed completely out of place and should probably be taken out of the book entirely. These problems are completely fixable, and I hope the manuscript is edited down a bit before being published later this year. After all, I did only read a review copy. I realize that this book is the product of Julie’s diary entries, which are intensely personal. Julie was writing for herself, and I can imagine the comfort she would feel writing about her childhood, her parents, and her daughters. These passages are invaluable, but they can weigh the reader down.

Julie died in April 2018, about a year before the book will be published. She was 42. Obviously, I never met Julie, but her words have touched me and brought me great comfort, and I wish I could tell her husband and her daughters how much her words meant to me.

Julie’s husband says it best in the Epilogue:

But that – cancer kills – is hardly a revelation. The revelation would come in how Julie responded to her fate. For the little girl born blind, she saw more clearly than any of us. In facing the hard truth of her inevitability, and never averting her gaze or seeking refuge in fantasy, she turned her life into a lesson for us all in how to live fully, vividly, honestly.

In our life together I learned so many lessons from her, but none more so than this: it is in the acceptance of truth that real wisdom and peace come. It is in the acceptance of truth that real living begins. Conversely, avoidance of truth is the denial of life.

Come to my blog!
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
August 16, 2019
This is one of those bewitching books that found me when I really needed it.

"The Unwinding of the Miracle" is a difficult book to describe. When I was trying to tell a friend about it, I settled on Cancer/Grief Memoir, but that doesn't fully capture its impact. The author started writing it when she was diagnosed with colon cancer and wasn't expected to live more than a few years. It's the story of Julie's cancer experience, but it's also a story of her incredible life journey and a reminder of how amazing it is to be alive at all.

You see, Julie was born blind in Vietnam, and because her grandmother thought she would be a liability to the family, demanded the child be euthanized. But Julie survived, and her family eventually found its way to America. Julie was a good student, went to law school, got married and had children of her own. It sounds like a perfect life. And then the cancer diagnosis, the stages of grief, and several years of fighting the disease, which finally took her when Julie was just 42.

This book resonated with me for many reasons, but mostly due to Julie's passion for trying to live fully even when facing grief and death. This is a book I wish I could have shared with my mother — I know she would have been moved by Julie's life story, especially how she didn't let her limited sight keep her from traveling the world.

But I can't share this book with my mom because she died of brain cancer, and I still grieve for her. I'm grateful Julie wrote this book because it illuminates the struggles of the cancer patient, the caregiver and the patient's family. I had moments of wanting to cry out, "Yes, that's it exactly!" when Julie described a particular cancer problem.

In the end, this is an inspiring book, because it's a reminder to pause for a moment, ignore all the bullshit of work and the news and whatever other squabbles are going on, and just remember how fucking amazing it is to be alive. I mean, it's a goddamn miracle I'm writing this, sharing this book with you right now. Focus on that.

Meaningful Passage
"In the years since my diagnosis, I have known love and compassion that I never knew possible; I have witnessed and experienced for myself the deepest levels of human caring, which humbled me to my core and compelled me to be a better person. I have known a mortal fear that was crushing, and yet I overcame that fear and found courage. The lessons that blindness and then cancer have taught me are too many for me to recount here, but I hope, when you read what follows, you will understand how it is possible to be changed in a positive way by tragedy and you will learn the true value of suffering. The worth of a person's life lies not in the number of years lived; rather it rests on how well that person has absorbed the lessons of that life, how well that person has come to understand and distill the multiple, messy aspects of the human experience. While I would have chosen to stay with you for much longer had the choice been mine, if you learn from my death, if you accepted my challenge to be better people because of my death, then that would bring my spirit inordinate joy and peace."
Profile Image for Val Robson.
535 reviews35 followers
February 5, 2019
Julie Yip-Williams has a very interesting story to tell in the 37 years before her colon cancer diagnosis in 2013 but this story is rarely mentioned as the book concentrates on the tests, treatments, clinical trials, pain and side effects she’s endured from diagnosis to her death in 2018. She lists all the different cancer drugs she’s had or considered with a lot of detail about the results of ongoing blood tests, MRI, PET, CAT scans, CEA levels, etc.

I feel very bad about giving such a review about someone’s memoir who has died but I did struggle with many things she had to say but mostly her many references to ‘Slutty Second Wife’ such as

“I understand that if I die, Josh will need companionship and my girls will need a mother figure, and I’m okay with that. But I will state here for the record and to get this off my chest, any woman who encroaches on our relationship while I am still living will have to answer to me. And to her and the Slutty Second Wife (if she is not the same person), I promise you this – if you screw with Josh and my children, either while I’m alive or after I’m gone, if you find a way to get around my ironclad estate planning and take assets from my children in your grubby little hands, if you otherwise harm any of them, I will haunt you from the afterlife and I will hurt you.”

Yes, I can understand her complete frustration, anger, bitterness and a myriad of other emotions I cannot conceive as I am not in Julie’s situation, but I cannot ever condone writing these words down and then publishing them for the world to see. I have two close friends who have lost wives to cancer and who have remarried. Both men have dealt with this with completely sensitivity to their late and current wives and have been marvellous and inspirational in how they have brought the second wives into the family and friends group while loving and honouring the original family unit at the same time. This is a very difficult path to tread for everyone involved and bereaved men and women need the love and support of all around and not huge guilt trips laid on them when they find love again. Being a step-mother or step-child is already a minefield without your birth mother making it a war-zone while still alive. I try and get past my frustration at Julie writing this by hoping that she is joking but she refers to it several times and even use her Slutty Second Wife phrase in an email to a music teacher asking her to be proactive in her daughter’s music future when she dies.

For me the main interest in this memoir was the author’s life before the 2013 diagnosis. She was born in 1976 to a Chinese family living in Vietnam. A few weeks after her birth her family realised that she was blind. Her paternal grand-mother insisted on Julie’s parents taking her to a herbalist some distance away to be given a potion to kill her. The grandmother’s reasoning being that Julie wouldn’t be able to walk around the house without bumping into things. When her periods started “She’ll bleed all over the place, dripping like a wild bitch” and she’d end up on the streets like armless and legless people. Fortunately the herbalist refused to have any part in the dirty deed asked of him. While I wanted to know more about Julie’s early life this whole section was implausible as she described the bus journey to the herbalist in great detail including what the other passengers were doing, what passersby were doing, the crops in the fields, the weather. I very much doubt her mother could relate all this thirty or so years later when Julie was told of ‘the secret’.

Around age four, Julie and her immediate family escaped on a boat to Hong Kong and then onto USA. In L.A. an ophthalmic surgeon was found who restored some sight to Julie although she was still legally blind. All of this is very quickly glossed over and I didn’t have a sense of how much she could or couldn’t see throughout the book. She went to University and then to Harvard Law School but that is only mention in passing.

There is a lot of clichéd writing and no sense of timescales in the book. Since finishing it I have learned that it was actually a series of blog posts which explains the disjointed writing. It’s crying out for a ghost writer to heavily edit it and instil some sense of chronological understanding in the book.

The clichéd writing is very irritating. Julie makes so many assumptions about those around her “happily ensconced are they in the unblemished perfection of their own lives”. She makes comments likes this time and time again seemingly oblivious to the fact that no matter how much good health, wealth or success a person has no one has an unblemished life. Yes, most do not have to endure the challenges and traumas that she has but no one’s life is perfect.

She describes times of rages when her husband feared for his own and the children’s safety. Her husband, in an honest epilogue, notes that they came close to divorce on occasion. She talks of her 5 year old daughter loving to watch documentaries about wild animals killing each other. And how that same daughter loves watching endless TV shows with her father about airplane crashes as the father is obsessed with these sort of programs. I truly fear for the mental health of those innocent children who were only 6 and 8 when their mother died after almost 5 years of illness. I just hope that her husband and two young daughters are as resilient as Julie thinks they are and they have a lot of love and excellent care surrounding them to get over the traumas they have faced these past 4/5 years. And indeed, future traumas inflicted by the permanence of the writing in this book on their lives. What mother states for the world to see that the moment she married her husband or held her new born children was not one of the happiest moments of her life. Best unsaid if that is truly what you think.

With thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews936 followers
April 12, 2019
Julie Yip-Williams was diagnosed with Stage VI colon cancer in 2013 at the age of 37. Her memoir has been crafted from a series of blog entries she wrote to chronicle her life, both for herself and for her young daughters who would survive her when she died five years later.

Julie’s life was remarkable in many ways. Born blind to Chinese parents in South Vietnam in 1976, Julie’s paternal grandmother ordered her mother to take Julie to an herbalist who would give her a concoction to kill her so she wouldn’t be a burden on their family. The herbalist refused and the grandmother was forced to relent. Shortly thereafter, Julie and her family escaped South Vietnam in a boat and eventually made it to the United States. Julie’s vision was improved by surgery in the U.S., but she was still considered legally blind. She challenged herself in many ways to prove her strength and independence, traveling alone to all seven continents before she was thirty-one. She moved across the country away from her family to go to school and graduated from Williams College and Harvard Law School. At the time of her diagnosis, Julie was a successful lawyer at an international law firm in Manhattan, married to another successful lawyer, and the mother of two little girls, 2 and 4 years old.

The dire diagnosis came as a complete shock to Julie and her husband, Josh. Julie had only been having abdominal pain and nausea for about a month when a severe bout of pain and abdominal distention sent her to an emergency room. Tests revealed an abdominal mass, and further testing and surgery led to her grim Stage IV diagnosis.

Julie’s story jumps back and forth in time quite a bit, which makes for a choppy reading experience. Additionally, her mood and outlook swing wildly from an unflinching and fatalistic acceptance of death to raging and screaming at her children and husband in anger and despair. There’s no doubt in my mind that a terminal cancer diagnosis is the wildest roller coaster ride of emotions you can imagine, but I think part of the disjointedness I felt was from the patching together of blog entries, probably out of order. It did not always flow well and I sometimes felt Julie was contradicting herself from one chapter to the next. There was also a fair amount of repetitiveness, but that again makes sense in being pulled from blog entries versus being written as a novel. Still, I think a good editing could have helped some here.

One thing I appreciated about Julie was her disdain for the overzealous and relentless positivity that seems to be encouraged when facing a terminal diagnosis – as Julie states, “creating happy visions of a distant future that is entirely unlikely.” Honesty in confronting death is her mantra. Everyone handles life’s hurdles in their own unique way, but I salute Julie’s “no bullshit” attitude.

Probably a 3.5 for me, but rating up for an unfaltering take on dealing with a brutal foe. What a f***ing nightmare cancer is!! Not only does it kill you with extreme prejudice, you have to navigate and weigh all of the treatment options and their side effects, clinical trials, insurance and financial issues, estate planning and still manage to live your day-to-day life. Julie does go into a fair amount of detail on the specifics of her cancer treatments, so this might be of special interest to those facing her same challenges.
Profile Image for Terrie  Robinson.
447 reviews719 followers
July 23, 2020
"The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After" by Julie Yip-Williams was written, recorded and narrated beautifully! It's raw, heart wrenching and it touched my heart & soul!

I was astonished, mouth gaping, I couldn't believe what I was hearing as I listened to Julie's words recalling her early life in Vietnam. Born blind sadly translated to a bleak future for a child no one would want or care for in a country ravaged by war. The story of her beginning gets worse as she hears her Mother retell the story to her, many years later, about how Julie's paternal grandmother viewed Julie's future as a blind child in post-war Vietnam.

Julie's family is able to leave Vietnam and travel to China, then to the USA where they settle in California. At UCLA Julie has surgery performed by an UCLA ophthalmologist that improves her vision but only to partial sight.

Julie has determination beyond belief. At 17, even though she is legally blind, she chooses to attend and graduate from a college in the northeast where she doesn't know a soul. She is accepted to Harvard Law School, becomes an attorney working in a New York law firm where she meets her future husband. She travels the world by herself on numerous vacations to places most people would never travel alone.

At 37, happily married with 2 young daughters, Julie is diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. This book tells of Julie's journey from this diagnosis, through the treatments, surgeries and clinical trials. But it's deeply thought out, sharing the emotional turmoil that is thrust at this individual after such a diagnosis and continues with disappointing report after report as cancer viciously spreads and matastasizes through Julie's body.

Julie speaks with the truth of how she feels, how she views hope and her impending death. There are no filters with Julie - she lets it loose in this book. She's sad but she still feels joy. She feels anger & rage for weeks, then finds peace. Her heart is full of love for her family and she shares how cancer has changed how they feel about her and each other, bringing them closer together when otherwise it would not have happened. Cancers gifts.

I am a little different, too, after listening to Julie's journey. I have watched several You Tube videos about her so I could hear her voice and see what she looks like. She's gone now but her book & voice remain with us all for future reference. Julie's gifts.
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,907 reviews1,642 followers
January 25, 2019
Julie Yip-Williams was just thirty seven years old when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Married, with two young daughters and with a career in law, she spent five years coming to terms and knowing that eventually her illness would lead to her death. Yes, its the circle of life that we all revolve around, but no one expects or wants to die that young! Julie's parents lived in Communist Vietnam. When Julie was born, she had cataracts and her grandmother begged Julie's parents to take her to a herbalist, to get a tonic that would male Julie die. Her grandmother believed that Julie's survival would only be a burden to the family. The family escape to America where Julie receives the medical treatment for her eyes. She was declared legally blind due to her poor vision. But being blind did not hold Julie back. This is an open and honest memoir that will resonate with many readers.

I would like to thank NetGalley, Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and the author Julie Yip-Williams for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Christine.
183 reviews255 followers
February 13, 2019
Dear Julie,

You don’t know me, but I finished reading your book late last night. You’ve been dead for eleven months. I wonder how you are, if you’ve reached the afterlife you so strongly believe in despite your lack of religiosity.

I was reluctant to pick up your book. A posthumously published memoir by a 42-year-old woman with Stage IV colorectal cancer? Excuse me while I run in the opposite direction. I read one other cancer memoir that didn’t engage me, which I still rated high because of the circumstances. I didn’t want another guilt-trip read.

Well, guess what. I love your writing. Thank you for sharing your story. What a life you had - born blind in war-ravaged Vietnam, your grandmother ordering you killed, your family’s escape on a rickety fishing boat. A new life in the United States, the gift of partial sight. Your familiar though no less admirable Asian immigrant trajectory: sacrifice and struggle, academic success, a rewarding career, marriage, motherhood. But it wasn’t just material wealth you were looking for, for you challenged your visual disability by traveling, often solo, to all seven continents by the time you were 30. You overcame the odds, lady! You had it all.

And then cancer struck. When you were 37. Seriously. What a bitch.

I think I’m supposed to praise your courage and grace, but what I appreciate most are your “negative emotions.” Your fear and sadness, but especially your anger. You put it out there for all to see, challenging “delusion, false optimism, and forced cheer in the face of a devastating diagnosis.” Why shouldn’t you be angry? It can coexist with your love. You can build a home for your family while raging against an unknown “Slutty Second Wife” who will live here, in the life you can’t. Some people will criticize you for even calling her that, even though you say, at the end, that you don’t hate her. I understand what you want - for Josh to find someone, but on healthy terms; you hope that he becomes whole again through his own efforts, not to use another woman as his vessel. I love that statistic you shared, that 51% of widowers sleep with someone else within a year of their spouses’ death, versus 7% of widows. Men!

Some might criticize you for being frank about your impending death with Mia and Belle, for not shielding your little girls from the tragedy. But I too believe that grieving a loved one while they are still alive is the better option. Modern society has an unhealthy relationship with death. We alienate ourselves from it, which prevents healthy grieving. My father never hid death from us - when I was a preschooler, he told me everyone dies, and that given the chance he’d like his ashes shot into space (or scattered in the sea, that’d be okay too). Choi! Choi! Choi! people said when they heard him. Touchwood! I started talking to my son about death even earlier.

I loved learning about you, Julie. I’m glad this book is 80% from your blog, that you had the energy to write these pieces while in the midst of it all. No wonder they capture the immediacy of what you were going through. In these pages I see someone I greatly admire, someone who shares the same philosophies, the same passions. I did not have dry eyes at the end of your book, but I felt more peace than sadness. I wish your spirit well.

Profile Image for Connie G.
1,739 reviews476 followers
March 24, 2019
Julie Yip-William's early life involved a series of miracles. She was born in Vietnam with congenital cataracts causing blindness, and the surgeons had fled the country at the end of the Vietnam War. Her grandmother wanted the disabled girl to be given a lethal poison, but the herbalist refused. Then her family escaped to Hong Kong on an overloaded, leaky boat. They eventually came to the United States where she had surgery on her eyes. She was still legally blind, but could read with a magnifying glass. Julie was resilient and extremely intelligent, going on to graduate from Harvard Law School and traveling to seven continents. She met her husband while working at a prestigious New York law firm, and they had two young daughters.

Julie faced her largest challenge in life when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at age 37. Life became five years of hopes and disappointments, doctors visits, scans, side effects from chemo, precious time with her family, and rage that life was so unfair. She loved her husband and daughters, and tried to spend quality time with them. Julie put plans into place so that her daughters would have caregivers and mentors to help them when she died.

Her two young daughters watched videos of fatal airline crashes, and nature documentaries showing animals hunting their prey in the wild. This is on top of seeing their mother dealing with episodes of pain, depression, and rage for five years, starting when the sisters were toddlers. I often felt it overloaded their young minds with so much emphasis on death. I hope readers will check with professionals about the best way to help children through the difficult journey.

The writing in this book is full of emotion and emphasizes living with joy, although she is honest about times of pain and depression. The book was made from Julie's blog posts so there was quite a bit of repetition, especially as she told about her early life. It would have been a better book if it had been edited down more. I would recommend this book to people who are close to someone going through cancer treatments. Julie was not afraid to honestly put all her feelings out there, and she exhibited amazing courage.
Profile Image for Ericka Clou.
2,192 reviews169 followers
July 17, 2019
I lost both of my parents to cancer, my dad when he was 61 and I was 31, and my mom when she was 60 and I was 38. Since losing my dad I’ve read a lot, including a number of these end of life books. The good ones come from people who either gave thought to how to live life before being diagnosed or read a lot of literature throughout their life. The worst are a hodgepodge of memoir and random “deep” thoughts with no organizing theme.

In this case, the life story of Yip-Williams is somewhat interesting though spread out throughout the book. I’m especially interested in her solo-legally-blind travels, but unfortunately, she didn't describe that in any detail. Otherwise, I would only recommend this to people who want to mine the book for colon cancer specifics, which admittedly might be useful.

Also, the whole thing about her husband's hypothetical second wife was a bit much. Granted I'm not dying of cancer, but I really love my husband, and I imagine (and hope) that if I died he'd marry someone completely awesome. The last thing I'd want to do is leave them with a list of musts and can'ts to make them feel guilty about their decisions when I'm not even around. Wanting your kids to be raised a particular way is completely understandable, but I'd want them to be loved by a stepmom more than I'd worry about their music classes. And I'd even want them to be happy enough to be able to call her mom. Real love is about them, not me.

For me, the best part of the book might be her husband's epilogue. It's truthful and full of selfless love. It also provides a pretty good analysis of the reality of a bad cancer diagnosis and a long terrible illness.

If you want end-of-life wisdom I recommend: Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl who survived the Holocaust, The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs who died of cancer, and Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich (about the annoying positivity forced on cancer patients and others). Or you know, actual books about philosophy, religion, and literature generally.
Profile Image for Candice Lee.
126 reviews5 followers
June 3, 2019
I feel bad writing this review as I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead, but this memoir was painful for me to get through. While I can appreciate the value it holds for individuals in similar situations, and I’m sure it’s a wonderful gift for her daughters to remember her by, I was bored to tears with the constant statistics, test results and cliches.
Profile Image for Mara.
138 reviews7 followers
March 5, 2019
As you might expect from a book compiled from blog posts, written by someone grappling with her life and death, Yip-William's writing in this book vacillates all over the place. Certain passages are beautiful and inspiring, achieving her stated purpose of conveying the insights that she hopes may assist others (cancer patients, yes, but also anyone suffering) in knowing they are not alone. Other passages, however, are bitter and devoid of empathy (see her repeated messages of jealousy directed at the "Slutty Second Wife" or the people she observes enjoying life and assumes are carefree). Still others are horrific and painful to read, such as her breakdown in which she is so consumed with anger that she causes her husband and children to fear for their safety. Others are unnecessary, such as the points of repetition and the long lists of incomprehensible (except to medical personnel and the cancer community) treatment options. Obviously, all of the emotions that Yip-Williams experiences and conveys so honestly are valid--this is her life and her story and we readers are privileged that she was willing to share them with us. Just be ready!

Separately, and much less importantly than understanding the rest of what to expect, I also want to voice a certain discomfort I felt around Yip-Williams unacknowledged privilege. She "made it" on talent and will from very difficult beginnings, so her financial and social privilege is earned, but on some level it's still jarring when she mentions off-hand that she is, of course, hiring a private chef to take care of her family's meals after her death, or the many times she uses a network of powerful connections to circumvent typical wait times to see a specialist or receive a particular treatment much sooner than others. I'm sure anyone else would do the same and yet it struck me repeatedly how many cancer patients reading the book, certainly almost all, wouldn't have the financial security to leave their job and remodel the perfect New York (view of the Statue of Liberty!) apartment for their family to live in after they are gone or invest in expensive, experimental trials of mice and flies injected with their specific cancer cells to test novel drug combinations. I guess that privilege is part of why it is her story that is being told, as opposed to the story of others. Her skill and honesty in the telling is certainly another part.
Profile Image for dori.
116 reviews6 followers
December 4, 2018
Thank you, Netgalley, for the opportunity to read this book in exhange for an honest review.

Given the subject matter, I feel terrible even writing this review - they say one should never speak unkindly of the dead. That's not what I wish to do here, anyway - I simply want to warn the living.

Unless you are greatly helped by reading any and all cancer memoirs, you can skip this one. My eyes were glazed over by the prologue. I stuck it out into chapter one but as the clichés continued to pile on, I found myself nose-first and drooling on my Kindle with no desire to continue.

Again, i realize that sounds so terribly harsh, but I'm merely offering feedback as an avid reader and "memoir junkie" as I like to refer to myself. I'm sure the author's loved ones appreciated this final gift and others may also have a totally different experience than I did. This may speak to them, too. It just didn't say anything to me.
Profile Image for Stephanie Borders.
440 reviews19 followers
September 24, 2018
Julie Yip-Williams was only 37 when she was diagnosed with the colon cancer that would eventually kill her. Married, with a burgeoning law career and two young daughters, Yip-Williams spent the next five years coming to terms with what death means. Her goal was to embrace the inevitable. She knew her disease would kill her, sooner rather than later. She was heartsick at the thought of leaving her two young daughters motherless. At the same time, death is the ending that we all must face, and Yip-Williams wanted to stare death down with bravery and respect.

"To the degree that my book speaks truth about not just the cancer experience but the human experience in general, I want people to be able to find themselves in the writing. And in doing so, I want them to realize that they have never been alone in their suffering . . . I want them to find within the rich, twisted, and convoluted details of my life truth and wisdom that will bolster and comfort them through their joys and sorrow, laughter and tears."

I definitely saw myself in Julie. 35, with two young daughters as well, my biggest fear has always been to die when they still need me. I could relate to Julie's belief that no one can love them or parent them in the way that I do. It's a tragic scenario. In that, I was inspired by the way Julie handled death. She saw it coming for her, and she surrendered on her own terms, in the best way she could. She was thoughtful of every aspect of her death, and thoughtful of those she loved most. She was honest about the good things that arose from her diagnosis, but didn't shy away from the many, overwhelming negative aspects of her cancer.

I rarely keep books I've already read, and in this instance my copy is an ebook, but this is one of those books that demands a spot on your shelf. I plan on purchasing a copy for myself. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
2,235 reviews33 followers
December 30, 2018
Julie was a friend of a friend; I never met her.

This is dark and intense. I had to read it in little chunks, so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. I especially liked her attacks on what she called the “hope industrial complex.” I so admire her honesty, even when it gets dark and brutal. She must have been really amazing.
Profile Image for Eric.
409 reviews31 followers
September 6, 2019
The memoir The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams will most likely be at the top of my list of books read this year. The memoir is about Julie Yip-Williams' life, death and living while dying of cancer at the age of forty-tw0. As she explains, this is a memoir for those that are left behind after she passes away.

The recounting of her life, thoughts, experiences, and feelings is a tale of a remarkable journey and life. Her insights that she passes along are so poignant and profound and provide an opportunity for a tremendous learning experience.

Her writing is graceful, tough, open and searing. And so brutally honest about so many things.

For those that have had to experience terminal illnesses, some passages will be familiar, but Julie Yip-Williams still provides kernels of truth and experiences that should add enhancements to most peoples' lives.

I am so glad a GoodReads friend previously reviewed this book (Thank you Megan!), because, before that, I do not recall hearing about this book and am surprised it has not received more publicity. Also, I do not know if it resonates strongly with me because of my own past experiences, but this memoir contains wonderful observations and insights into life and death.

It simply can't be recommended highly enough and I would love to see it become required reading for especially younger people.
Profile Image for Kim.
314 reviews114 followers
December 11, 2021
4 stars

This is a very tough and emotional read. I can only imagine how much more painful it must have been to live, and die, through it. Julie's story provides insight to something we'll
experience eventually.
Profile Image for Books on Stereo.
1,268 reviews174 followers
February 16, 2019
The Unwinding of the Miracle is, simply, a beautiful mess. Yip Williams unwinds and rewinds her life experiences as a way to comes to terms with her life and subsequent death. It is repetitive and at times grating, however recollecting and reconciling one's life in the facce of death isn't narratively perfect; it's messy. A brilliant, fierce exploration of the value/meaning of life in the face of death.
Profile Image for Caitie.
166 reviews9 followers
June 26, 2019
While this book was a welcome perspective on cancer, dying, and death, I was distracted by her privilege. At various times she raged at doctors, suggested people with cancer travel the world and not work, and plotted an escape from a hospital for immigrants and poor people - which is exactly what she was in early life.
Profile Image for Lily Herman.
569 reviews592 followers
August 10, 2020
God, I don't even think I can properly explain how much I loved this memoir. How Julie Yip-Williams wrote so thoroughly and clearly about so many different experiences—ranging from devastating to majestic—is nothing short of miraculous itself.

Yip-Williams unravels so much more than just her cancer diagnosis and the end of her life in her book. She explains her battle with her own internalized ableism as a blind person, her feelings about her family's long-held secrets, and her ongoing struggle to understand the complexities of both life and death and our control (or lack thereof) over either.

Reading a book about death in the midst of a pandemic may seem morbid, but there's actually something incredibly grounding and life-affirming about The Unwinding of the Miracle without being overwrought or saccharine. It's a meditation on life and death at a time when many of us are trying to make sense of both during every hour of every day.

One thing to note about this memoir that isn't made clear from the synopsis: The book is taken from posts on Julie's incredibly thorough blog as well as a manuscript she'd worked on years prior about her upbringing in Vietnam and then as an immigrant to the U.S. Thus, there are some aspects of the memoir that are slightly repetitive (as you'd expect from someone blogging about their life for years and reminding readers of various aspects over time).

Still, "powerful" doesn't even begin to explain what Julie Yip-Williams has written. I'm just sitting here in a sea of tissues.

Content warning: Infanticide, verbal abuse, illness, death
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
594 reviews10.5k followers
May 16, 2019
A very honest look at dying from cancer. This book doesn’t shy away from the crappy parts and the rage. There are moments of profound wisdom and other times it went on too long.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,680 reviews2,668 followers
February 20, 2019
A lawyer facing late-stage cancer reflects on the happy life she had despite a disability and an inauspicious start, and bids farewell to her family. It was miracle enough to have survived her first few years (blindness, a euthanasia attempt, and fleeing Vietnam by boat), but she eventually graduated from Harvard Law School and joined a Wall Street law firm. The author dubs herself “a somewhat ruthless realist.” Early on she vowed she would do nothing desperate or bizarre in her quest for healing, in contravention of what she calls the American “hope industrial complex.” Yet she also left room for spirituality to surprise her. The book resembles a set of journal entries or thematic essays, written at various times over her five years with colon cancer. Some stories are told more than once; an editor might have combined or cut some passages to avoid repetitiveness. Still, this posthumous memoir stands as a testament to a remarkable life of overcoming adversity, asking questions, and appreciating beauty wherever it’s found.

See my full review at BookBrowse. (See also my list of other recommended posthumous cancer memoirs.)
Profile Image for Patricia.
553 reviews1 follower
March 27, 2019
At times it grew difficult to get through Julie Yip-Williams' honest (and occasionally repetitive) account of her life with and without cancer. Depending on my mood, I could have given this book much fewer stars. I decided that I appreciated the candor and, in the end, decided that I will often reflect on her commentary as a I move through my own life, which marks it a good book.

One comment, not necessarily a negative about this book, Julie Yip-Williams' fight with cancer is extended in part because of the incredible wealth and privilege of her family. While she didn't brag about the money, it was clear that her family has a lot of disposable income. I wonder what it would be like for someone to go through this fight with cancer when they do not have seemingly unlimited resources. What sacrifices do they make? How does insurance help them? what do they have to fight for? how do they balance it when they have to work to retain their insurance and support their family? I don't see many end of life books that discuss this challenge.
Profile Image for Belle.
491 reviews30 followers
March 27, 2019
One of those books that I opened to read the book flap and never closed until the last page. A lesson on dying truthfully. Really although said too many times by me, no one should leave this book unread. It’s a manual on how to die gracefully and truthfully. I only wish I could be a part of Julie’s life. She would have been such an awesome friend.
Profile Image for Sharyn.
396 reviews
February 9, 2019
I don't like not finishing books, especially those I have received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. But this book has triggers for me and I am finding it a very upsetting read. Also I dislike the facts and stats, the nasty name given to the poor person who might become the second wife and step mother to her children. It may be a cultural thing bearing in mind the attitude of her grandmother to her as a tiny baby but I can't read anymore. Abandoned at 17%.
Profile Image for Shirley Freeman.
1,162 reviews14 followers
October 6, 2018
I loved this beautiful and compelling memoir of living with and dying from colon cancer. Julie Yip-Williams packed a lot of living into her too-short life. She didn't mince words when writing about the awful stuff of cancer but she also wrote with eyes wide open about life, relationships, and deep, abiding love.
Profile Image for Liz.
121 reviews
December 26, 2018
Heartbreaking doesn't begin to describe the emotional territory navigated in this memoir of the life, illness and death of a vibrant young mother stricken with metastatic colon cancer at the age of 37. The miracle of the title refers to the author's survival and good fortune against all odds, as a baby born blind in Vietnam in the late 1970s, a country impoverished and in disarray. Escape to America, topnotch medical attention, and an Ivy League education furthered her miraculous life trajectory. A high-power legal career, love and motherhood completed the perfect picture. But too soon the unwinding began.

How can an intense, take-charge person deal with the loss of control imposed by incurable illness? How might a philosophical, articulate woman ponder the possibility of dying? How should a "tiger mom" prepare her young daughters for a future that most likely will not include her? Julie Yip-Williams became a blogger. Her blog evolved into a book that brings her vividly and lastingly to life. In it she recounts, with unflinching honesty and in great detail, the course of her illness. As she faced each challenge, I found myself examining my own life, my strengths and weaknesses, and my own beliefs about life and death.

A well-written and extraordinarily moving memoir by a talented and courageous writer, this is a book and an individual I know I won't forget.  Highly recommended.

I received a free advance copy of this book from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Melody.
2,644 reviews270 followers
September 2, 2021
Oof. This one stuck in my craw. The author struck me as not very relatable. There were parts that spoke to me, but as soon as she reeled me back in, there was something to make me shake my head and scoff. First, this book cried out in vain for an editor. Some stories she told at least 3 times. And I dunno, I have read a lot of cancer memoirs since my own diagnosis, and this is perhaps my least favorite of all. The author didn't seem to recognize her privilege, particularly, despite a tight focus on how lucky she was to be alive at all. There were poignant parts, of course, and certainly I can identify with the horrors of medicine. But this author didn't work for me.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,508 reviews1 follower
April 27, 2019
Read with Jenna April book. Get your tissues! This isn’t an easy read, but a beautiful read. I know it took courage for Julie Yip-Williams to be so vulnerable in her journey with colon cancer. We’re all going to die, this book is about living life in spite of cancer. A book about love and family. It’s hard to put down.
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