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Sanctuary: A Memoir

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  356 ratings  ·  63 reviews
"Congratulations on the resurrection of your life," a colleague wrote to Emily Rapp Black when she announced the birth of her second child. The line made Rapp Black pause. Her first child, a boy named Ronan, had died from Tay-Sachs disease before he turned three years old, an experience she wrote about in her second book, The Still Point of the Turning World. Since that ti ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 19th 2021 by Random House
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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Melissa Greenwood
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
My badass, strong-as-a-mother writing coach and Pilates student Emily Rapp Black has written her third memoir "Sanctuary," and it is as stunning and complex as she is. In it, she not only tells the story of losing her son Ronan to Tay-Sachs disease at 2 years and 11 months old (on social media, she has called him her “sweetest kid;” “sweetest boy;” “pumpkin;” “such a good boy;” “my little snug bug;” and “super snuggly”), but also of remarrying and having a second and healthy child, Charlie—a dau ...more
This is the sequel to The Still Point of the Turning World. Things got worse before they got better. As is common for couples who lose a child, Rapp and her first husband separated, soon after she completed the previous book. In the six months leading up to Ronan’s death in February 2013, his condition deteriorated rapidly and he needed hospice caretakers. Rapp came close to suicide. But in those desperate months, she also threw herself into a new relationship with Kent, a 20-years-older man who ...more
Feb 26, 2021 rated it it was ok
Emily Rapp Black wrote down her journey through grief, a journey that doesn't have a finite end. The quotes she references and her metaphors clearly mean a lot to her, but towards the end of the novel, I found myself not learning and not connecting with what I was reading. I agree with another review of this book that it feels wrong to rate a memoir low. It is an accomplishment to put into words what so many struggle to process. Maybe it's because I'm not a student in a graduate school writing c ...more
Ronda Russell
Mar 06, 2021 rated it it was ok
As others have written, it is uncomfortable rating memoirs as you feel you are rating a person's life.
That being said.... The author of Santuary survived the death of her first child, a son who succombed to Tay-Sachs, and, understandably, is clearly living with deep grief and bitterness.
She repeats herself throughout the book and writes in very difficult-to-understand prose.
According to her bio on the book jacket, she is highly educated and has a resume of literary accolades, most of which I c
Dec 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
We carry one another in whatever ways we can….
What doesn’t kill you changes you, and those who choose to love you. That is what it means to bear witness, a unique and salvific form of resilience.
I did have to skip a bit - these seemed to be an overlapping series of essays written at different times - but I felt very deeply the sections I did read. I think this was one of the hardest books I’ve ever finished. It was also awful to hear some of the thoughtless comments that people make to grievin
Robert Case
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, own-the-book
Like all well-written books, this one starts with a hook, an opening scene with the right blend of drama or excitement to get the reader engaged and curious about the journey the author has planned for us, her readers. "Sanctuary" begins with the author and main character poised over the guardrail of a remote bridge, ready to jump and waxing poetic about the emptiness in both her inner and outer lives, and revealing that the source of this profound grief lies in the loss of her first child to a ...more
Apr 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021-nonfiction
Emily Rapp Black has written a wrenching memoir about paralyzing loss and grief and despair, but inevitably, also about resurgence and a fierce determination to salvage happiness in life at all costs. Unsurprisingly then, Ms. Black’s life turns out to be one of overlaps: she has a dead child and she has a living child; she has a former husband and she has a new husband; she has an old address and a new address, and so on. The memoir, to some extent, is about resolving these overlaps; in some cas ...more
Deedi Brown (DeediReads)
Jan 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
All my reviews live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/.


A portrait of grief and examination of resilience, Sanctuary is a gorgeously written, vulnerable, insightful memoir of Rapp Black’s experience losing her son and having her second child.

For you if: You like memoirs, especially those that examine aspects of our humanity.


“I feel it in me, that uncomplicated, devastating happiness; it is true and tactile as anything I’ve ever felt. But behind that feeling lurks the
Mar 15, 2021 rated it liked it
A mother’s account of having a child with a fatal genetic disease. Her caring for her son for his less than 3 years in life. Her marriage collapses under the pressure. Eventually she gets remarried and has a daughter. While I found some parts interesting, a lot on self help didn’t hold my attention.
Margie Dewind
Mar 31, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021
Good but too repetitive (as in using the same quotations) of her first book about grief.
Jodie Siu
Apr 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Stunning and beautiful, this memoir examines the true nature of resilience and how we can move on even after terrible things happen. The author is very human and vulnerable, and her honesty makes me feel better about my own vulnerabilities.
Dec 19, 2020 rated it liked it
***Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review***

It feels wrong to rate a person's memoir, especially when it revolves around their trauma and grief. Emily Rapp Black went through the immense trauma of watching her firstborn child die from Tay-Sachs disease. This memoir looks at how that excruciating experience has helped her form and shape her views on trauma and resilience. The content of this book is what you would expect, but how it was formatted made it a difficult rea
Nov 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir, psych
This book is for anyone who is wondering if they're the only ones experiencing life-altering grief after the death of a loved one. Rapp Black doesn't hold back from the pain she feels, sometimes in excruciating detail and at great length, so readers shouldn't pick this up in the immediate aftermath of a loss or before doing significant recovery work. But overall, I appreciate the author's willingness to lay her soul bare both for herself and for others. ...more
Amelia Holcomb
Jul 05, 2021 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this memoir but was just...bored with it. Perhaps her previous memoir was more interesting? I appreciate the author sharing some of her meanderings about having a child with Tay Sachs disease, the child dying, and the aftermath of moving forward--but I also felt like there was so much missing, like meaningful moments, tidbits of wisdom, and regular, everyday "hmms" and "ahas." Even most of the quotes and poetry that she referred to was only just okay. ...more
Jun 22, 2021 rated it liked it
I enjoyed Rapp Black's previous 2 memoirs much more than this one; I felt like the last third was lots of meandering and pontificating. There is a lot of lovely, insightful writing here, but honestly, towards the end, when she was writing about how inspiring her Peloton instructor was, I was starting to find the author a tad insufferable. ...more
Kim Miller-Davis
Apr 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful memoir of what happens after loss. In a deftly written intellectual exploration of death’s aftermath, Emily Rapp Black considers the ongoing role of grief in our lives. By examining the ways in which moving forward does not include the relinquishing of pain, but instead demands the necessity of its continued presence, Black reaches some provocative conclusions about both bereavement and resilience.

Black’s son died from Tay-Sachs disease, a horrific lifelong affliction that involved ye
Bruin Mccon
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
“Our task is to live through suffering.”

Sanctuary is a non-fiction memoir about living through one of the worst things any of us can experience: the death of a child.

This book is at its core how to find meaning from our grief. The book will gut you as it should—but the author also examines linguistic theory and takes inspiration from other writers.

“What doesn’t kill you changes you and those who choose to love you. That is what it means to bear witness.”

The author doesn’t just lose her son—her
Monica Snyder
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
“‘A butterfly with an injured wing can still fly,’ he tells me, ‘it just won’t look the same.’ He pauses. ‘I mean they just go. Get on with it.’ This resonates with me: the idea that a rupture—in the body, heart or mind—that isn’t fully mended doesn’t prohibit life or the full living of it, through joy and pain...Butterflies don’t think about being uneven or inelegant or made incorrectly or recently damaged as they move, but instead carry on with what they were designed to do: fly. Live. Watchin ...more
May 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
"I wanted a card that would scream when you opened it and then immediately shatter."

This is a memoir of rage. Of living through agony, and agonizing through living.

It's a layering of two disparate lives. The slow loss of a young son unmakes the writer, and in the wake of his death, she somehow makes herself a way of being in the world. With her new partner and daughter, people act as if she's found a "replacement" family or has somehow risen heroically from the ashes of her past. But Sanctuary i
Chelle - FlowerChildReads
This was our February #zibbybooks #bookambassadors book club selection. We had a fantastic discussion led by @mehgan.riordan.jarvis Her unique perspective was the perfect voice to guide us through a thoughtful and meaningful conversation.
Emily Rapp Black’s first child died from tay sachs disease, her marriage imploding under the weight of this stress, but fractured by existing cracks. She remarried and had a beautiful healthy daughter. This dual realism is one the author fights to integrate, to
Feb 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-reviews
AUDIO. This is an excellent memoir, wide ranging while sustaining a focus on loss, grief, and resilience. That's hard to do, and the author does a fine job. I also appreciate memoirs that don't hide the less attractive side of life such as the dissolution of the first marriage which became ugly as both endured such raw grief and blame placing. The comments from book tour readers are also pretty shocking...I guess they presume an intimacy that doesn't exist beyond a book. Weird.

One misstep in my
Kathleen Gray
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Rapp experienced the horror of watching her son Ronan die of Tay Sachs disease and then the dissolution of her marriage. Somehow she kept going. She kept going into a new marriage and a new pregnant, beset with grief and concern. And then her daughter Charlie is born healthy. How does one reconcile the two sides of the coin- still bent by grief and yet experiencing joy? That's what Rapp has tried to describe In this memoir that isn't a straight line narrative. It's always hard to review memoirs ...more
the overstuffed bookshelf
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House for this copy of Sanctuary by Emily Rapp Black.

A good memoir pulls you into the life of the writer and holds on to you until the author's story is told. I've read a lot of good memoirs but none of them quite like Sanctuary. Sanctuary feels like a diary or a journal, written from the author's perspective, of the period of time in her life after her son passes away from Tay-Sach's disease. It isn't really a retelling of events
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I pre-ordered this work and was excited to finally read it. Stayed up all night to finish it and wow. It’s a great treasure for an author to show up so authentic, raw, and vulnerable in memoir. Many often hide things and as a reader you wonder what is missing. Here, Emily Rapp Black does not hide. She takes us through places few speak of, and illuminates depths unexplored often enough. I find myself changed after reading her work, my heart expanding in her life experience and insights and I feel ...more
Jan 19, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley-2021
Displaying your open mental wounds, meditating in written form regarding the loss of a child and welcoming another into your world, while cathartic perhaps can be very difficult for an audience to read. The experiences and reflections may help others encountering the same path and as such Emily Rapp Black's memoir "Sanctuary" may be a sanctuary for that particular reader.

For me, where I am and my own experiences, I found "Sanctuary" frequently too difficult, too wrought emotionally, to read for
Mar 05, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
A really hard book to read. Rapp Black has written two other memoirs before, and I suspect much of in here is mentioned in her other books. In the aftermath of her son dying of Tay Sachs, her marriage has disintegrated, she struggles mentally (who wouldn't in the aftermath of losing a child?), she falls in love with a new person, ends up having a daughter who is totally healthy - but what a painful terrible ride. It was just really hard, the emotions to see saw raw pain, and at times, the chrono ...more
Janilyn Kocher
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Sanctuary is an honest assessment of Black’s life. The loss of her oldest child who had a debilitating disease. The birth of her second child, her relationships, her own loss of a limb as a child. She shares it all with blatant forthrightness. I was not surprised at the cruel and thoughtless comments people have made to her. The author is strong to have withstood all that she has. Readers can gains strength from reading about Black’s life and her grappling with sorrow. It also teaches one to liv ...more
Feb 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Emily portrays life after loss in this heartfelt memoir.

After the death of her son from Tay-Sachs disease, and the dissolution of her marriage, the author had to struggle to find meaning and purpose in her life.

She does find love again, and has another child.

But she is still the mother of two children, and she learns to balance the joys and sorrows of her past and her present to live a full and meaningful life.
Apr 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
A mother’s reflections on the painful loss of a young child, an acrimonious end to a marriage, the start of a new relationship, and the birth of another child. Quite a lot of drama in the author’s life, and her solid writing abilities sure bring you into the swirl of her storms. Particularly enjoyed her discourse on the meaning of resilience. I think losing a child at any age must be the most difficult of life’s many challenges to overcome.
Jul 05, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fic, medical
A follow up memoir to Black's book "The Still Point of the Turning World" about the diagnosis of her sons (fatal) Tay-Sachs disease. Black is an accomplished memoirist and what she has to say about grief and resilience is complex and emotional. I'm not sure I'd recommend this book to anyone but I was moved by the author's honesty and the absence of any "easy 10 step program" of dealing with trauma. ...more
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