My Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A memoir of reinvention after a stroke at age thirty-three.
Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache on the morning of December 31, 2006. By that afternoon, she saw the world—quite literally—upside down. By New Year’s Day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. And after hours in the ER, days in the hospital, and multiple questions and tests, her doctors informed her that she had had a stroke.
For months afterward, Lee outsourced her memories to a journal, taking diligent notes to compensate for the thoughts she could no longer hold on to. It is from these notes that she has constructed this frank and compelling memoir.
In a precise and captivating narrative, Lee navigates fearlessly between chronologies, weaving her childhood humiliations and joys together with the story of the early days of her marriage; and then later, in painstaking, painful, and unflinching detail, the account of her stroke and every upset—temporary or permanent—that it caused.
Lee illuminates the connection between memory and identity in an honest, meditative, and truly funny manner, utterly devoid of self-pity. And as she recovers, she begins to realize that this unexpected and devastating event has provided a catalyst for coming to terms with her true self—and, in a way, has allowed her to become the person she’s always wanted to be.
The non-linear structure of this memoir is extremely well done. It reminded me of memory and the ways in which we remember our lives. It then makes sense that Lee would bounce back and forth in time as she connects events and draws connections and parallels within her life. Lee writes about memory from both a scientific standpoint and a personal one. Yes, memory is science, but it also feels emotional and very unscientific.
As someone who has survived a couple traumatic events, I appreciated the ways in which Lee writes about trauma and survival. I particularly related to Lee’s husband as he transitions to a caretaker role following her stroke. The job of a caretaker is a difficult and thankless one and I greatly respected the eloquent ways in which Lee describes this new role for herself and her husband. Lee writes that this stroke both ruined and saved her life, and as someone who has survived trauma, I agree with that statement.
Being a writer, Lee frequently writes about her writing as a way of coping and recovering after her stroke. She especially mentions Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and makes beautiful use of his phrasing, “and so it goes.” This theme repeats throughout Lee’s memoir, and I found myself relating strongly to this phrasing and her use of it. When tragedy strikes, life moves on. The world keeps turning. It is up to us to determine how to move forward, how to get up and live another day. “And so it goes.”
Overall, I thought this book was fantastic. Lee writes beautifully about her recovery, the high points and the low ones. It was fascinating to learn more about strokes and the science behind both the stroke itself and the recovery process. In the few days it took me to read this memoir, I found myself slightly panicking everytime I couldn’t immediately think of a word! Clearly, this memoir hit home for me. I highly recommend this quick read.
This book is…
Page Count: 272
Available here from Book Depository.
Have you read Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember? What sorts of memoirs do you like to read?