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

Scar Tissue

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  271 ratings  ·  33 reviews
At the heart of Michael Ignatieff's riveting novel about a woman's descent into Alzheimer's are the tangled threads of a Midwestern family, frayed by time and tragedy yet still connected - as much by pride, embarrassed love, and sibling rivalry as by the painful ties of family loyalty. More than a tale of isolated tragedy, Scar Tissue explores the bonds of memory, their co ...more
Paperback, 212 pages
Published June 15th 2000 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1993)
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 Scar Tissue, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Scar Tissue

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  271 ratings  ·  33 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Rosalind Minett
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing


There are several novels with the title 'Scar Tissue' but I doubt whether the quality of the others can match that of Michael Ignatieff's work. It was written in 1993, some time before dementia became such a topical issue. It's the kind of fiction that the reader contests, 'It must be autobiographical', but it isn't.
Two brothers, different, and at odds with each other must come to terms with their mother's dementia and father's death. The younger, the protagonist, live
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
To be honest, I was looking for a tale of a descent into Alzheimer's - the loss of memory, the loss of identity, the gory days of dis-inhibition - and a family coming together with that tragedy. I was expecting a version of Em and The Big Hoom, but for Alzheimer's.

Major prolonged illness in the family can have two outcomes - it either brings everyone, even those drifting away, closer, or it just leads to an under-the surface fragile family disintegrating. While EATBH reinforced how the fa
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canlit, fiction
Scar Tissue Movie Tie In by Michael Ignatieff in its simplest form is the story of a man trying to deal with his mother's descent into mental incapacitation through what I presume is Alzheimer's, although that name isn't specifically used. It's the story of his relationship with his father, mother, brother and wife and family as the disease progresses and his ability or inability to cope with it and them. In some ways, it's a very straightforward story but at the same time, it can strike many chords with the reader. There were many momen ...more
May 17, 2014 rated it liked it
I kept forgetting this was a novel, thinking it was a memoir, and hating the self-indulgent voice. Then I'd remember it was a novel and marvel at how well the voice was done. And how much I hated that voice. And I wondered why it made a difference to me, whether it was a novel or a memoir. Because the self-awareness of the author who invented the voice was so much more tolerable than horrible miserly self-indulgence of the voice of the protagonist?......It was interesting to think about why that ...more
Z. J. Pandolfino
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
It feels inappropriate to even evaluate this book. What does it mean to say that it deserves my praise? Such an appraisal feels so shallow, so superficially inconsequential when I think about the pain so palpably imbued into this novel. Scar Tissue is beautiful. I wept at its many difficult moments, either because I, like many other readers, have a dear relative whose life I have watched the unmerciful hands of dementia slowly destroy, or simply because its meditative prose, philosophical perceptivene ...more
Katherine Pederson
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
It was uneven writing...sometimes poignant, other times reading like a text book, which I found very distracting.
Feb 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
"I could call this the history of my family as the history of our characteristic illness. I could also call it the history of an illness as the history of one family", says Michael Ignatieff at the outset of his novel Scar Tissue. Although the author has built himself a reputation as a scholarly historian, biographer and culture chronicler, this book is by no means a vapid academic exercise. To the contrary, in barely 200 pages the author paints a very personal and infernal journey to the extrem ...more
Heather Pearson
Apr 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian
It's election day in Canada. In preparation for this, I wanted to read a book by one of the party leaders. The only one that found it's way to my hand was Scar Tissue by Michael Ignatieff leader of the Federal Liberal Party.

While he may be a very good and convincing author, it's unfortunate that he couldn't transfer this to his leadership. At this hour, it's pretty clear that he is not going to become the leader of the opposition.

This book does not deal with politics at a
Oct 16, 2011 rated it liked it
(7/10) Ignatieff isn't the greatest author in the world, but he's a damn sight better at it than being a political leader. While a bit too brainy for its own good at times, Scar Tissue is a moving novel about the experience of dementia and how it consumes and devastates not just the life of the sufferer, the narrator's mother, but also the unnamed narrator himself, who becomes wholly taken up by the position of caregiver and ultimately left empty. The frigid rationality of the narrator is first establ ...more
Tammy Lee
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, canadiana
I love discovering the treasures on my bookshelves. All the books waiting patiently for me to discover their stories, and I have no idea what is in store for me with each one I open to read.

This was one of those surprises. This is a story about the experience of dementia and how it consumes and devastates not just the life of the sufferer, but the families who love and care for them. I had to remind myself several times that this was not a memoir, but a novel so well written that any
Nov 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Ignatieff's novel examines dementia from various lenses. The narrator/protagonist is a philosophy professor who considers how dementia exposes the dynamic interconnections among identity, relationship and existence. His only other sibling is a brother who is a neurobiologist. As a scientist, his take is more mechanical--documenting how the disease progresses through brain tissue. The person with dementia is their mother, who has early onset dementia. She is a painter in addition to being a wife, ...more
May 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Ignatieff’s novel hinges around his mother’s slow death from neurological illness but for me was really a philosophical study on loss, selfhood and death and possibly (I hope I am not being unkind) his fear about losing his own intelligence. He throws in a bit of poorly developed characterisation (his six month ‘affair’ with his mother’s Filipina care worker and in particular the way in which he breaks up from her is (unwittingly) hilarious) and makes a half hearted attempt to bring in science a ...more
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who prefer black coffee.

Clear and precise writing. Like Tuesdays with Morrie without the sugar.
Jim Agustin
Apr 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Read this book many years ago, got it out of the library at random. It had a plain yellow cover, not like this edition.

I didn't know why I borrowed it then, but since reading it all those years ago it has stayed in my memory. I should go back to it and see why. I suppose it has to do with the recognition that someone so close to you can become so broken, so distant that it becomes excruciatingly painful to remember how that person was before.

A haunting and disturbing book
Nov 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian-authors
A story about Alzheimer's.

At the time I read this I was familiar with the Ignatieff family war regarding this book - two brothers of very different minds about sharing their mother's story. One brother who physically supported the mother on the journey (who didn't write the book) and the other at a distance physically (who did write the book). So my reading was always informed by this personal struggle.

Nov 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to sisterimapoet by: Mew
Shelves: fiction-2011
Very uncomfortable reading but a really good book. A great balance of emotional connection but intellectual depth. I felt like I was with the central character every step of the way in his explorations into the loss of his mother and his philosophical ponderings about sense of self. Not just a valid read for it's insight into dementia but for it's insight into what it is to be human.
Anne Goodwin
Mar 08, 2014 rated it liked it
My post on Literary Dementia, which discusses this novel, is now live at
Dec 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly really good. This book is really short at just 198 pages. He could have done so much more with this story which is truly wonderful. So great story, wished it was more developed, and the language at times can be a bit much.
Diana Stevan
Mar 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The emotion that is expressed in this book is universal. I thought the author was very courageous in tackling the dilemma of a young man who finds himself torn between his wife and his aging parents.
Siobhan Markwell
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Thought provoking. Especially liked observations on reconciling death with modern view of life as a narrative.
Some parts were easy to identify with, others not at all. Fairly gripping, but not one I'd recommend or re-read.
Dec 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
Writing style OK. Not a cheerful subject. Didn't feel it had a sufficiently interesting perspective to make it unique or likable. Author said he wrote it as a catharsis and it reads that way to me.
Feb 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
this is a beautiful book
Jan 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
The subject matter was bleak, as it would be. But there was still a sense of hope as the characters edged along the path of grief and trauma. An insightful look at dementia and the mind.
Jennifer Irvine
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read. Ignatieff is in the wrong business!
Oct 21, 2012 added it
Shelves: adult-fiction
I have no memory of this book. I must have read it in my sleep.
Mar 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012, ccc-500
I thought this was an interesting read. A philosopher tries to get to grips with his mothers dementia and his own genetic predisposition.
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Changed the course of my father's life twenty years ago. A stunning read.
Mary Clifford
May 11, 2012 rated it liked it
tough to take. Had to force myself to finish it.
May 18, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a great admirer of Michael Ignatieff's nonfiction. This novel was quite surprisingly very good.

« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Pascali's Island
  • Europa
  • The Orchard on Fire
  • Flying to Nowhere
  • Last Letters from Hav
  • Daughters of the House
  • The Colour of Blood
  • Shadows on our Skin
  • According to Mark
  • Impossible Object
  • The 27th Kingdom
  • The Essence of the Thing
  • Gossip from the Forest
  • Beside the Ocean of Time
  • Nocturne: On the Life and Death of My Brother
  • Mrs Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel
  • The Keepers of Truth
  • Sour Sweet
See similar books…
Michael Grant Ignatieff is a Canadian author, academic and former politician. He was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and Leader of the Official Opposition from 2008 until 2011. Known for his work as a historian, Ignatieff has held senior academic posts at the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the University of Toronto.
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“Memory is the only afterlife I have ever believed in. But the forgetting inside us cannot be stopped. We are programmed to betray.” 36 likes
“I do not know whether it is an act of faithfulness to her or a betrayal of the dignity she never lost, to say that she had bitten her tongue, to say that there was blood flowing across her mouth and lips which my brother kept wiping away. I do not know whether I have the right to say, though I will do so, that her body was shaken with epileptic tremors and that she took enormous, terrifying breaths that went on and on until you could not believe she had the strength for them. I do not know whether, as we thought at the time, she could feel our hands on her forehead and cheek, or whether she had waited until we were both there to die.

I did not say 'I am here'. I did not say anything. Her mouth was open wide, as in those portraits by Francis Bacon of caged prisoners in their final extremity. I watched and listened to those terrifying, rattling, hoarse breaths, wondering at the strength remaining in her aged body and at the violence it still had to endure. I looked over at my brother as if he might know, as if he might understand whether she had the strength to continue. He was stroking her forehead, whispering soundlessly to her, attempting even at this moment to reach behind the veil and find her.

If you believe that she knew we were there, if you believe--I cannot be sure--that she understood what her sons needed at that instant, her eyes which had been shut and which, by being closed, made her seem completely out of our reach, suddenly opened. Blue-grey eyes, staring up into the ceiling above her sons' heads, upwards, ever upwards, fixed like an exhausted swimmer on the shore. Then her eyes closed and she took the largest, most violent breath of all, and we watched and waited, stood and looked at each other, felt for her pulse and slowly, as seconds turned into minutes, realized that she would never breathe again.

There is only one reason to tell you this, to present the scene. It is to say that what happens can never be anticipated. What happens escapes anything you can ever say about it. What happens cannot be redeemed. It can never be anything other than what it is. We tell stories as if to refuse this truth, as if to say that we make our fate, rather than simply endure it. But in truth we make nothing. We live, and we cannot shape life. It is much too great for us, too great for any words. A writer must refuse to believe this, must believe there is nothing that cannot somehow be said. Yet there at last in her presence, in the unending unfolding of that silence, which still goes on, which I still expect to be broken by another drawing in of breath, I knew that all my words could only be in vain, and that all that I had feared and all that I had anticipated could only be lived--without their help or hers.”
More quotes…