Book Review: The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

Title: The Grief of Others
Author: Leah Hager Cohen
Publisher: Riverhead Books, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1-59448-612-8
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is not easy to read a book about grief. I am certain that it is not easy to write about grief as well. I am sure the process is excruciating – mentally, physically and emotionally. More so, it is not easy to deal with grief once it strikes you and you relate to it through a book that you are reading and will eventually review.

I lost a parent at the age of twenty-one. This is personal and yet while reading, “The Grief of Others” by Leah Hager Cohen, I kept thinking of my father and the times spent with him. Maybe that is what grief does – it reminds you of stuff and it connects with you and others at a deeper level, even if it is a writer and her work.

“The Grief of Others” is about The Ryries and the loss they have suffered: the death of a baby just fifty-seven hours after his birth. John and Ricky, in the wake of this tragedy, try to return to their lives. They want normalcy and want to make things the way they were. However, nothing works out the same way. Their children, ten-year old Biscuit and thirteen-year old Paul, respond to the unnamed tensions in the air around them and act out their lives with grace and eccentricity. The couple cannot understand their children and they cannot understand themselves anymore.

The story further moves on when a stranger arrives at their doorstep and they deal with their loss and pain and unite once more as a family, in surprising ways.

The plot of the book is basic and may have also been written about in the past. But the way Cohen writes is different. There is this starkness, almost raw quality to her writing. A spade is a spade and there is no sugar-coating for the emotions and the way her characters feel. Secrets tumble out the closet and things happen along the way, but the eternal question that remains in the readers’ minds while reading this book is: Will this family be able to cope what they are going through?

For me, the book touched a chord somewhere as I mentioned earlier and maybe that is why, I am of the firm belief that there is nothing more universal than grief as an emotion. It somehow connects people in a very different manner. The writing in the book is thankfully not sentimental. It is emotional and makes you think and at the same time makes you wonder about your relationships with people.

“The Grief of Others” is about fragile people, who are trying to patch themselves after a disaster. It is about people who do not know best when tragedy strikes and wait in the wings for things to become alright. They try, they fail and they try once more, with the help of a stranger. Sometimes for all that you endure; you finally last at the end of it all. “The Grief of Others” is emotional and it is heartfelt. Read it only if it appeals to your senses.

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