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A beautiful, literary excursion into the heart. What one experiences in reading Sheehy's latest offering is the pain, joy, suffering, and catharsis of real experience by one who, up to now, has made her name by writing about and analyzing experience as a concept. Passages and Pathfinders helped us to recognize the psychological life crises that all of us in general go through in one way or another. But, in Spirit of Survival, Sheehy lived those passages and found her own path--ironically through the magic of a little Cambodian girl, Mohm (pronounced as in ""home""), who had, as a six-year-old, witnessed the brutality of man against man in one of this century's worst mass purges. Sheehy had gone to Cambodia on a journalistic assignment, ignorant in her mind of what her heart knew--that she was ripe to have her heart plucked by this Cambodian child. Sheehy was going through her own passage at the time: her daughter, Maura, was leaving home to go to college, and her longtime love, editor Clay Felker, was having difficulties with the commitment that Sheehy needed. All of this enters into the story. But this is, ultimately, the story of the survival instinct, particularly as displayed by Mohm--whom Sheehy managed to adopt at age 11. Sheehy finds some aspects that seem to link most ""survivors."" Among these are resourcefulness, social ease and savvy, curiosity, compassion with detachment, the ability to conceptualize that one's plight is not unique, and, finally, the ability to grasp onto a ""polestar,"" that is an older person who serves as a proxy parent or mentor. Sheehy served as Mohm's polestar--but in a much greater way, the reverse relationship was true as well. And Sheehy knows--and tells us--that it was more meaningful in its true grit than all of her other works. ""The challenged life may be the best therapist,"" she writes. Moving and valid.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1986
Publisher: Morrow