DADDYBOY

A MEMOIR

A daughter's moving recollections of her father, a ``model of dedication to the life of the mind,'' who ``day by day, cell by cell, loses his mind.'' Konek alternates her account of her father's slow death from Alzheimer's disease with vivid, sometimes painful, memories of her childhood in a home where a strict father, who ``controlled every aspect of his being and of ours,'' held her to singularly high standards of performance. She adored him and sought his love and approval—but she also hated and feared him. As he slowly disintegrates mentally and physically, though, she comes to understand and accept him. Although Konek's father is the focus and the immediate victim, the author's concern here is not simply the calamitous effect of Alzheimer's on him, but rather the havoc it wreaks on the whole family. Alzheimer's is truly a family disease, isolating care-givers, inflicting guilt, turning order into chaos. It traps Konek's mother for years ``with a dead man in a live body,'' leaving her vulnerable to con artists who take all her money, even her house. Occasional memory lapses take on ominous significance for Konek, who begins to imagine signs of the disease in herself. Finally, the family struggles with the most difficult question facing families when one member's approaching death is slow and painful but inevitable: Are we obligated to maintain life, or to allow death? Alzheimer's affects millions of men and women and their families. Konek's book will not bring them cheer, but it offers the significant comfort of a shared experience thoughtfully considered and beautifully described.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1991

ISBN: 1-55597-153-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1991

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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If that promise of clarity is what awaits us all, then death doesn’t seem so awful, and that is a great gift from Sacks. A...

GRATITUDE

Valediction from the late neurologist and writer Sacks (On the Move: A Life, 2015, etc.).

In this set of four short essays, much-forwarded opinion pieces from the New York Times, the author ponders illness, specifically the metastatic cancer that spread from eye to liver and in doing so foreclosed any possibility of treatment. His brief reflections on that unfortunate development give way to, yes, gratitude as he examines the good things that he has experienced over what, in the end, turned out to be a rather long life after all, lasting 82 years. To be sure, Sacks has regrets about leaving the world, not least of them not being around to see “a thousand…breakthroughs in the physical and biological sciences,” as well as the night sky sprinkled with stars and the yellow legal pads on which he worked sprinkled with words. Sacks works a few familiar tropes and elaborates others. Charmingly, he reflects on his habit since childhood of associating each year of his life with the element of corresponding atomic weight on the periodic table; given polonium’s “intense, murderous radioactivity,” then perhaps 84 isn’t all that it’s cut out to be. There are some glaring repetitions here, unfortunate given the intense brevity of this book, such as his twice citing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s call to revel in “intercourse with the world”—no, not that kind. Yet his thoughts overall—while not as soul-stirringly inspirational as the similar reflections of Randy Pausch or as bent on chasing down the story as Christopher Hitchens’ last book—are shaped into an austere beauty, as when Sacks writes of being able in his final moments to “see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.”

If that promise of clarity is what awaits us all, then death doesn’t seem so awful, and that is a great gift from Sacks. A fitting, lovely farewell.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-451-49293-7

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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