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A Memoir

by Sarah Manguso

Pub Date: June 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-374-28012-3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Frank account of the autoimmune disorder that consumed the author in her 20s.

The disease that plagued her in various ways for nine years had ravaging effects on Rome Prize winner Manguso (Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape, 2007, etc.), whose poetry and prose have never shied away from staring a subject in the face. In short chapters of slim paragraphs buffered by white spaces bearing as much emotive force as the poetic statements they insulate, she carefully unfurls the details of her eventual diagnosis of CIDP (chronic idiopathic demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy), akin to Guillain-Barré syndrome. Manguso’s condition first manifested in February 1995 as a head cold that wouldn’t quit; by March it had escalated to numb feet and almost complete paralysis. She landed in the hospital and underwent her first apheresis, a four-hour procedure that took her blood’s plasma (whose “devil antibodies” were stripping the myelin from her peripheral nerves and causing paralysis), removed it and replaced it with the plasma of others. The author endured more than 20 of these vampiric procedures before a central line was surgically implanted in her chest and a new neurologist recognized that curative treatment didn’t involve apheresis but steroid and gamma globulin therapy. Manguso’s abundant analytic and compositional gifts are evident throughout this harrowing memoir, from her expressions of hard-won appreciation for the relativity of suffering to a nuanced account of how serious illness can alter one’s conception of time, robbing the afflicted of both compassion and accurate recall. “I waited seven years to forget just enough—so that when I tried to remember, I could do it thoroughly,” she writes. “There are only a few things to remember now, and the lost things are absolutely, comfortingly gone.”

A powerful, direct examination of memory and suffering.