Tag Archives: death

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt. Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back- Carl's Book by Naja Marie Aidt Title: When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book
Author: Naja Marie Aidt
Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman
Publisher: Coffee House Press
ISBN: 978-1566895606
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 152
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

You cannot overcome grief. Grief hangs around, till it decides to leave you. Till such time you cannot get rid of it. It will not let go. As Naja Marie Aidt puts it so eloquently, that it breaks your heart: “Sorrow cannot be cured”.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book is a book about Naja’s son Carl and how she and her family lost him when he was twenty-five years old. Lost him to what? Lost him to whom? How does one overcome such a loss? Does one really? The answer is always no.

The book is about Carl. His life, his loves, his innocence, his need to be there for everyone, and his love for his friends and family. Naja bares it all. She gives it all to the reader – in the form of Carl’s notes, his poems, her poems, other writer’s works on death, grief, and loss. From Whitman’s poetry (which she found in her son’s green jacket afterward) to Anne Carson and Gilgamesh, this quest is also personal (only personal) – that of understanding the nature of loss and how to cope with it (if there’s a way to it).

We all have different ways to deal with death. How many of us acknowledge the loss and speak of it again and again and again? How many of us choose to ignore what we feel and continue as though nothing has happened? The loss of a loved one cannot be contained. The loss of a child more so.

Naja’s book made me see how I deal with death. How I manage my emotions, what I feel, how I communicate, and what happens to me when someone beloved is no more.

The book tore me severely in so many places. The times she speaks of her son – always so lovingly, the way she speaks of who he was and what he was made of, her anger at her son not being present in the world, how he was buried, the future he could’ve had, the reactions of the family, and more – all of them shook me, made me weep, and made me realise how important it is to tell people you love them – to make them know it again and again and again. Death isn’t easy. Living without is most difficult. We all hold on to scraps of memories. That is all what remains.

And here is Naja Marie Aidt’s interview about the book. A must-watch:

 

The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End by Katie Roiphe

The Violet HourTitle: The Violet Hour: Great Writes at the End
Author: Katie Roiphe
Publisher: The Dial Press
ISBN: 978-0385343596
Genre: Nonfiction, Death and Dying
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There’s something about death, isn’t it? Something so fearful and yet sometimes enigmatic for some. Sometimes also makes you think about it all and then only leads to everything becoming nothing in an instant. One day it is all there and the other it isn’t.

Katie Roiphe takes this a step further in her book “The Violet Hour” and speaks of death in the context of great writers (who are but obviously dead) at the end of their lives. She just doesn’t write of death as the end, but the entire journey of dying, so to say. For instance, how Susan Sontag thought she could beat death at its own game and did several times, till she had to go. Or for that matter, Updike who after receiving the worst possible diagnosis wrote a poem at seventy-six. And then the excesses of Dylan Thomas and his suicide attempts that finally led to his death.

A good work of nonfiction, to my mind, is the one that doesn’t stray away from facts and more than anything else does not try to romanticize facts. Roiphe’s strength lies not only in these two facets of writing, but also the way she presents her extensive research, which involved family and friends of writers and what is already known to the general public. Roiphe doesn’t make the book sentimental, and yet it tugs at the heart because death is sadly a universal experience. We have all seen it up, close and personal and can relate if not even empathize with most part of the book or all of it, as it were in my case.

The book does not tell you how to grieve. What it does though is in a way deconstruct death through experiences of great writers and what it did to them and their family and friends. And in that process, we just get to know these writers better. Death, for Freud, was just a subject to be studied till he realized that he couldn’t observe his own death after all and never hestitated to smoke himself to death and refused to take pain killers.

At some point, as a reader one could feel guilty of prying into another’s death – the last days and yet there is something about the book that makes you want to know more about these six writers. Kudos to Katie for all the research and the way she articulates thoughts, emotions, what the writers did in the last days, what they chose to rather and above all what does death mean to each of them and perhaps even to yes on a universal level.

Sparrow by Sarah Moon

Sparrow by Sarah Moon Title: Sparrow
Author: Sarah Moon
Publisher:  Scholastic
ISBN: 978-1338032581
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

As an introvert, Sparrow’s life has not been easy. She has been prone to reading and being by herself, which isn’t a bad thing at all. She prefers watching birds, and spending time with her high-flying mother, who is an IT executive at a Brooklyn bank. She has no friends and her world is limited to books and her teacher, Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian. She is the perfect friend Sparrow has – she doesn’t speak much and knows exactly what book Sparrow will like next. Till tragedy takes place and Mrs. Wexler dies in a freak accident. From then on, Sparrow is left all alone – miserable and lonely, almost wanting to commit suicide. Sparrow enters therapy and her world changes like never before. Enter: Rock & Roll music.

This is the plot of “Sparrow” by Sarah Moon. Sarah knows how to decode a teenager’s head. What goes on in Sparrow’s mind is almost bang-on. In fact, many a time I was transported to my teenage years and that had me nodding in affirmation to everything that was going on in the book. Moon’s prose is bang-on in so many parts, especially when she describes Sparrow with a book or her new-found love and the solace Rock & Roll brings to her life.

The book touches on mental health issues delicately and I wish it had probed a little further on it, though it is there and does address it in more than one way. The story doesn’t stray and I enjoyed Sparrow’s transition from grieving to loss to contemplating suicide to seeing things and life for what they were. Sarah Moon doesn’t glorify anything. If anything, she tells a story the way it is meant to be told – in an honest way. Just for that “Sparrow” deserves one read at least. Also, because it is rather warm in a lot of places.

 

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death: A Memoir by Maggie O’ Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am - Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O' Farrell Title: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death: A Memoir
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525520221
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The book is about the author’s seventeen near misses with death. I could say this and explain the book to you but that would not be fair to it. The book is a lot more than just this (though this is the core, mind you, as the title and sub-title will tell you). And yet what I take from it is the fragility of life, sometimes the joy in living and the fact that you still move on, despite the seventeen near misses with death. “I Am, I Am, I Am” is a testament really to living and living with life’s bittersweet moments.

There is no melodrama or sentimentality when it comes to this book. There is a lot of emotion though, but nowhere does it get emotional to the point that it tends to feel fake. O’Farrell’s writing is raw, straight from the core of the heart, to the point of it being exhausting at times (which I was prepared for given the nature of the book) and yet, the book lifts you from the ordinary in so many ways.

Death is something we do not speak of casually or even for that matter most seriously. It is something that we take for granted till perhaps you face it and if you have had close shaves with it seventeen times, then you know better than to think you are immortal or life is long and so on and so forth. “I Am, I Am, I Am” in that sense uproots your ideas of death and life, about how fragile we are and yet as humans we don’t admit it.

Maggie’s experiences could’ve been anyone’s really and even if they aren’t she makes them ours through the power of her writing. When she is on the verge of drowning, so are we. When she suffers, so do we. The book is divided by body parts that were involved in these brushes, sometimes even the entire body and then you see the magnanimity of situations she was in and as a result of that, you empathize no end.

The poetry of prose is also hard to bear, the events intense (some of them) and often drive you to tears. Compassion is strengthened and you bring yourself to find moments of happiness, hope and joy throughout. Maggie O’Farrell has put her heart out on paper and whether or not you have read her novels, you should read “I Am, I Am, I Am” for sure.

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes

insomniac-city-by-bill-hayes Title: Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me
Author: Bill Hayes
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1620404935
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember a friend sending me excerpts of this book. I read it while I was at Doolally – a taproom in Bombay. I was waiting for friends to show up for the Wednesday night quiz and then something happened which I hadn’t expected to – I wept by the time I had finished reading the long excerpt. I cried. I think I even bawled. I strongly also believe that when an art form does that to you – when it creeps up on you like that and almost shatters your world – you’re in for a rollercoaster ride. That happened to me as I was reading “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me” by Bill Hayes, from which the excerpt was.

Relationships are fragile, they are also very strong. At the same time, what do you do when it ends all of a sudden? When it ends not because you want it to, but because death comes suddenly knocking on your partner’s door and there is nothing you can do about it. Then what? Hayes’s partner died after sixteen years of togetherness. He then moved to New York from San Francisco in search of a new start (as most of us do). He found himself in a city that was surprising, random, and at the same time made him see the humanity that exists. Slowly and steadily, he fell in love with New York and found love in the form of the late, great neurologist and writer, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

This book “Insomniac City” as the title suggests is about New York, Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes. It is also about life – majorly so, and how it changes constantly whether we would like it or not. It is about New York – of how brutal and gentle she can be at the same time, of how to surrender to the city is to love her completely and without any prejudice. The book ultimately is about great love that transcends all barriers, challenges, doubts and the throes of darkness. There are also the author’s stunning photographs – capturing his love for the city and Oliver.

Let me not forget the portrait of Oliver Sacks that Bill Hayes paints so vividly and beautifully – a genius who did not own a computer – who always preferred to communicate via letters and longhand, who didn’t know how a champagne bottle was opened and used goggles when he first opened them for the fear of the cork hitting his eye, who called pot “cannabis” and who believed in living life as it came – day by day. Hayes met Oliver after Oliver wrote him a letter praising his book “The Anatomist” and this is how they met and love blossomed. The book is about that love, about how Oliver met Hayes after three decades of being alone and celibate. “Insomniac City” will surprise you in ways more than one.

“Insomniac City” is about the love between Oliver and Hayes and what they shared in Oliver’s final years. The writing is so personal and out there that you cannot help but be overwhelmed. Their love for things common, their roads to discovering something they did not know, and what it is to live daily – for the bond to strengthen and one fine day to see that love slip away. The book teaches you about grief, about people coming together quite randomly on a bus or a train and makes you more aware and conscious of what it is to be human. I cannot recommend this book enough. Do yourself a favour: Order it, read it and weep. You need a good cry, now and then.