Ignatieff, Michael. Scar Tissue. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.
From the very first page of Scar Tissue you are sucked in. The opening paragraphs are tragic and utterly real. You can easily put yourself in the story.
I am a big fan of clever one-liners and Scar Tissue is full of them, like “we are programmed to betray” (p 4). Truth be known I would have said “We are programmed to deceive” paying homage to one of my favorite songs of my youth, “Hotel California” by the Eagles. But, Ignatieff is right, betrayal is more in keeping with human nature than deception.
I grieved throughout this entire book. Told from the perspective of a middle aged married man with a family of his own, it is story of watching parents grow old and relationships change. The aging process is especially cruel when it is accelerated by Alzheimer’s disease. The mother the narrator loves dies in the mind right before his very eyes and he is powerless to stop it. It is difficult to read about the mother’s slow decent into another reality; a reality where childhood happened only yesterday but the spouse she wakes up next to is a complete stranger. The struggle to understand takes its toll on everyone around the narrator. He becomes fixated on “being there” for his mother, especially after the sudden death of his father. His marriage and teaching position suffer until there is barely anything left.
Probably the most poignant scene in the whole book is the narrator’s visit to an ALS patient and the distinctions made between dying with a sound mind as with the ALS patient and his mother, dying with a damaged mind but a healthy body.
I love it when books I am reading simultaneously overlap. Scar Tissue mentions Italian artist Andrea Mantegna whose biography is in Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (Vol 2) by Giorgio Vasari.
Reason read: November is national Alzheimers awareness month.
Author fact: Google Ignatieff’s name and you will see he is all over the internet, but not for his writing. He has had a pretty substantial political career as well.
Book trivia: Scar Tissue was short-listed for the Booker Prize.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 161).
Witchel, Alex. All Gone: a Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012.
What a difficult task it must be to not only confront a loved one’s illness but to share it with the world. People attempt to do it all the time but Witchel truly succeeds. Her writing is filled with tragic honesty and humor. In an effort to illustrate just how dementia has changed her mother’s personality and the dynamics of the mother-child relationship Witchel dips into her childhood. Using recipes from her past Witchel uses food to bridge the gap between a healthy mother and the disease that has stolen her. It is difficult to watch a seemingly healthy person disappear before your very eyes and that is what happens to Witchel’s mother. Going from professor to patient was not an easy transition for her.
In addition to the stress of an ailing parent Witchel confronts being the only sibling to step up and deal with the sad situation. Everyone is tied to their own family responsibilities and thinks Witchel is the logical caregiver. The attitude is, what else has she to do?
Many people will be able to relate to Witchel’s predicament. Even more so, fans of her writing for The New York Times will embrace her poignant memoir enthusiastically.
There are a bunch of lines I wish I could quote. I guess I’m going to have to read the finished version to make sure they stayed!