CANCERLANDIA! by Juan Alvarado Valdivia


A Memoir
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A memoir of mixed maladies.

Most older people understand that illness is a constant that will swoop down and ruin a life before you know it. People of all ages know that it’s possible to do considerable harm to oneself all by oneself. Peruvian-American writer Alvarado Valdivia, having been knocked down by cancer at the age of just 30, understands the former. Having knocked himself out with beer on the night of his birthday before the diagnosis, one of many such episodes recounted here, he gets the latter, too. The author recounts the course of illness and the challenges attendant on it, and he treats, honestly but without much verve, the ups and downs of addiction and the costs it carries. Sometimes, Alvarado Valdivia can be very good, as when he writes of the mental numbness and bleakness following the diagnosis as manifested in a post-shower vision: “I felt a flash of panic when I looked at the fogged-up mirror, my smudgy reflection, and thought it reflected a dark figure walking toward me through the fog.” At times, wrestling with the realities of lymphoma, he gets on an edgy riff, as with one concerning the various secretions of the body and the weird effects of chemotherapy on them; regrettably, he throws that particular epiphany away with a too-easy likening of the scene to The Exorcist. Sometimes, he blends both illnesses with a throwaway casualness, as when he thinks to himself that it might not be a good idea to mix chemotherapy with a hangover. “Boy,” he determines, “was I fucking right.” There’s an unbridled quality to Alvarado Valdivia’s writing that sometimes comes off as exuberance but more often as indiscipline.

Readers seeking a more universal account of illness will be better served by Christopher Hitchens’ nervy Mortality (2012), Susan Sontag’s disquisitions on cancer, and son Philip Rieff’s Swimming in a Sea of Death (2008), and other more mature reflections.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8263-4189-1
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Univ. of New Mexico
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2015


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