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

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  761 ratings  ·  174 reviews
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 grand
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published January 8th 2019 by Random House
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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  761 ratings  ·  174 reviews

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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 allow
Louise Wilson
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Stephanie Borders
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, netgalley, memoirs
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 ...more
Val Robson
Feb 05, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 a
Ericka Clouther
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, Yip-Williams life story is somewhat interesting t
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
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.
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 healin ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Candice Lee
Jan 26, 2019 rated it did not like it
I feel bad writing this review as I don’t wish to speak I’ll 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.
Shirley Freeman
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.
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
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,
Susan Hampson
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
The story opens with a harrowing statement from Julie Yip-Williams and I was in tears, something that would continue to happen throughout this book. Each chapter an honest account of 5 years of her life and how her moods changed, her hopes and fears for her family and preparing her husband and little girls for the times she wouldn't be around anymore.
Within a couple of weeks of Julie Yip-Williams being born the chances of her living a healthy, happy or long life didn't have good odds. Julie was
Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

My Mum died from lung cancer in 2013. The first we knew that she had the disease was the diagnosis of a brain tumour about a year and a half before. Mum was a keen reader, which is no doubt where I get my bookworm tendencies from, and the particular cruelty of her cancer was that it destroyed her language capability early on. Mum could imagine what she wanted to say to us, but the words she spoke came out so wrong that we couldn't understand
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is so much to admire in this book. It is incredibly well-written and honest. That said- while other books in this genre (a genre I like to call “women my age with children my children’s age who die”) are inspirational, this one is more realistic. And I cannot express how much it resonated with me. Yip- Williams’ anger, resentment, general disbelief felt so understandable. At times she was absolutely unpleasant. And, I mean, OBVIOUSLY. She was getting a bum deal. When she talked about her r ...more
Books on Stereo
Feb 16, 2019 rated it liked it
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.
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love the title of this book - the author helps us appreciate the miracles of our own lives more fully as her life is winding down. She wrote compellingly and honestly about her years of fighting cancer. I have to admit I was crying through the last chapters. I really appreciate her hard won insights. I am grateful that her light will live on through her family and her words.
Ashlee Bree
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compelling, stark, devastating, and brutally yet altogether poignantly honest.

Those are the first words that spring to mind as I endeavor to describe how it felt to read Julie Yip-Williams chronicle her journey with Stage IV metastatic colon cancer because there was no evasion here. No feigned or reticent anything. She shuffled no platitudes in the face of confronting this deadly disease any more than she shied away from underlining her inauspicious infancy in Vietnam, her blindness, and I like
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 a ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
The Unwinding of a Miracle is a very open review of the author's life, both prior to her cancer diagnosis and the time after. To anyone given such a diagnosis, kudos to you for withstanding the devastating blow and pulling yourself together to fight for your life while trying to live it the best you can!

Julie Yip-Williams received her diagnosis of stage-4 colon cancer while in her mid-30's with two young children. Putting pen to paper to tell her story not only gave her a place to document what
Lee Husemann
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Julie Yip-Williams was a 37-year-old with a successful career as a lawyer, married and the mother of two small daughters when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. She was born in View Nam to Chinese parents after the war ended. She was born with congenital cataracts and her grandmother wanted the parents to take her to an herbalist for something to make her go to sleep permanently. Luckily, the herbalist said no. They escaped by boat and came to America where Julie had surgery for her c ...more
Shannon Wise
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, read-in-2018, won

Julie Yip-Williams should not have been alive at age 37, when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. She was born to Chinese parents in Viet Nam, right after the end of the war. She had cataracts that could not be surgically corrected in Viet Nam. Her paternal grandmother sent her parents to Da Nag, to a medicine man, to have Julie killed. The medicine man refused to do it. She ended up immigrating to the United States, where her vision was partially fixed at age 4.

Despite her visual limi
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
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%.
Annabel Pizzata
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it
This book reminded me a lot of When Breath Becomes Air, which is unsurprising given they are both written by authors with terminal cancer diagnoses and published posthumously. What is surprising is how i failed to connect with this book when i did with When Breath Becomes Air. By all accounts, i should have, given the author and i both have law degrees, and two young daughters. I think perhaps i would have connected more had a heavier hand been applied to the editing, it jumps around a lot, with ...more
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, reviewed
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
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
This is a wonderful book. I was suspicious of it at first. I was worried it was going to be a compilation of recycled blog posts, and maybe it was but ultimately I didn’t care. In fact, it’s good that it was because we join her on her journey. I have little or no patience for repetition in books but here it serves a purpose. She is dying and trying to make sense of it, if sense can be made. We join her on her sometimes stream of consciousness journey as she takes the defining moments of her life ...more
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, giveaways
I won an ebook from Goodreads, this did not influence my review.

Three and a half stars.

Yip-William's memoir is a personal account of the last four years of her life facing a terminal diagnosis due to metastatic colorectal cancer. The book is organized chronologically and at first this distracted me as Yip-Williams often diverges from the present tense to share stories of her early life or to ponder existential questions. As I read further, this bothered me less, as I realized how immediate these
Stephen Yoder
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-read
I don't weep all the time for books but this one got me. Julie was a lovable character, especially because of her relentless honesty. She reminds me a bit of CZ, a friend of mine who died a few years ago of cancer. I think they would have gotten along well.
I enjoyed the emotional paths of many of these chapters, especially the one where she mentioned that she hated everyone. Life isn't fair and it is okay to hate here & there.
Julie had an amazing, lucky life filled with miracles. It incredib
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written, gut-wrenching account of a woman who has accomplished amazing feats, physically, emotionally and intellectually, only to be stopped in her tracks by the realization that she has stage four metastatic cancer. The book is written in the first person, and the brutal honesty of what the author experiences through her journey is often overwhelming in the best of ways. The love for her young daughters, her husband, her family, shines throughout and so often, her concern is for t ...more
Heather Hyde
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book undid me at the end, so brutally honest and utterly sad!
Julie survives her early life - just , and overcomes her sight issues, only 30 years later to be diagnosed with terminal cancer.
How do you leave your 2 young children to live their lives without you? To know what’s coming and to have to say goodbye to your husband, family, friends and all you hold dear?
Julie tried so hard to live and overcome the impossible as many do but rarely do you read such a true and devastating account.
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a difficult book to write a review about as it is the story of a young mother dying of cancer... and yet there is beauty in this book. Beauty, honesty, anguish, humour and poetry. Julie isn’t perfect and the book isn’t perfect but there is a lot to applaud here and it certainly makes you question your own life and whether you are actually living it.

The backstory of her childhood in Vietnam is fascinating and her efforts to prepare herself and her family for her death are well written.

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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.
“Walk through the fire and you will emerge on the other end, whole and stronger. I promise. You will ultimately find truth and beauty and wisdom and peace. You will understand that nothing lasts forever, not pain, or joy. You will understand that joy cannot exist without sadness. Relief cannot exist without pain. Compassion cannot exist without cruelty. Courage cannot exist without fear. Hope cannot exist without despair. Wisdom cannot exist without suffering. Gratitude cannot exist without deprivation. Paradoxes about in this life. Living is an exercise in navigating within them.” 1 likes
“Believe what you need to believe in order to find comfort and peace with the inevitable fate that is common to every living thing on this planet. Death awaits us all; one can choose to run in fear from it or one can face it head-on with thoughtfulness, and from that thoughtfulness peace and serenity.” 0 likes
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