REPRIEVE: A Memoir by Asnes de Mille
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REPRIEVE: A Memoir

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In May 1975, just before she was to go onstage and narrate a gala benefit for her Heritage Dance Theater, regal choreographer de Mille suffered a massive stroke. First she couldn't write; then she couldn't feel; soon she was in the hospital, labeled a ""fatal"" case. (""The hemorrhage that killed President Roosevelt was only slightly larger."") But ha the end de Mille didn't lose her life, her mind. . . or one whit of her well-known talents as a memoirist: this stunning account of her illness, recovery, and rebirth is afire with the qualities--the lean pioneer prose, the mordant humor, the grand gestures of passion and vanity--that have made all her books so fiercely affecting. ""I now had the body of a three-year-old and the brain of one aged two--with the right side completely useless; and de Mille captures the loss of the sense of touch, the pathos of physical therapy, with a dancer's gritty precision. (""It's as though my leg had been amputated at the groin and then soldered together with a thick layer of bread crumbs."") But the medical horror had only just begun--because embolisms meant the risk of death at any moment. The treatment? Grisly X-my and ""arteriography"" procedures (which turned her body black) and removal of a clot from the neck. Then: home with valiant husband Walter--to ""face life as a baby,"" to tame that wayward right hand (""known as Creepie""), to stare down humiliation from hairdressers and cabdrivers, to be ""obnoxious"" to her helpmates. The worst moment? Not being able to dance with her son at his wedding (""Right then I grew old""). But eventually de Mille accepted that ""for the rest of my life what I had to do was to train an uncouth lump""; she found joy in concentrating on the simplest tasks; she became gentler, more understanding toward her son, husband, and sister (herself dying, heroically, of cancer). And finally there's the night of that long-postponed gala--with de Mille venturing out onstage again, not just getting through it, but: ""At the end, when I shouted 'Honor your partner/Honor your corner,' I threw out both hands to the audience, both. . . ."" Funny, tough, deservedly prideful: a splendid book which stands at the top of--but transcends--the medical-ordeal genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday