TERRA INFIRMA: A Memoir of My Mother's Life in Mine by Rodger Kamenetz
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TERRA INFIRMA: A Memoir of My Mother's Life in Mine

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Poet and author Kamenetz (The Jew in the Lotus, 1994) tums his gaze more powerfully inward than ever before in this slender, emotionally searing recollection of his mother's life and death. His mother died of cancer at 54, ravaged by a typically long and painful battle with the disease. Her son was with her when she died, along with her husband and one of her two twin daughters, and Kamenetz recounts the exact moment of her death in carefully observed detail and strikingly modulated tones. The rest of his essay maintains the mode of careful observation--the book is most powerful whenever the author draws upon the resonance of objects to convey the pain of emotions--but the tone veers, quite intentionally, between the detached coolness of the early pages, occasional dashes of humor, and a more openly agonizing self-assessment. Kamenetz's relationship with his mother was rocky, as she yo-yoed between a smothering affection and a fierce anger. As a result, mother and son seemed to spend much time circling each other warily, like two planets held in a painful orbit by mutually powerful gravitational fields. Using essayist Montaigne as a model, Kamenetz tells his own story in a discursive, digressive style, ranging from mordant and funny ruminations on marriage and the nuclear family to harrowing descriptions of illness. He writes like the poet he is, wonderfully drank on language and constantly serving up fresh metaphors for familiar emotions and experiences. His love for his mother--difficult, savage, sometimes lapsing into a paradoxically deep distaste--emerges clearly. At times a frightening read, but an honest and thoughtful one.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1999
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Schocken