Book Description

Amazon.com Review In her early 50s, Australian historian Inga Clendinnen fell ill with acute liver disease. ''Fall' is the appropriate word,' she writes. 'It is ... like falling down Alice's rabbit hole into a world which might resemble this solid one, but which operates on quite different principles.' Her imaginative, unconventional memoir mirrors the hallucinatory nature of this world as she mingles reminiscences, fiction, hospital sketches, and family profiles to chart the course of her physical and mental life from diagnosis through a successful liver transplant and recovery. Anyone who has ever been in a hospital will recognize the frail, vulnerable, disoriented state of mind she evokes in describing her time there. Yet Clendinnen also displays biting humor (especially in portraits of fellow patients) and an almost mystical sense of purpose as she seizes on writing as the tool to make sense of her situation. Childhood memories loom large, many invoking the beauty of the natural world, ever-present and overwhelming in rural Australia. Presiding over that childhood, her proud, stoical, impenetrable mother 'provided me with an inspiriting mystery: the obdurate opacity of other beings'--and sparked, Clendinnen believes, her lifelong pursuit of historical mysteries. But the experience of being seriously ill dominates this text. The title comes from her determination to emulate a zoo tiger she admires because he refuses to acknowledge his imprisonment: 'I too was in a cage, with feeding times and washing times and bars at the side of my cot, and people coming to stare and prod ... whenever I felt the threat of the violation of self, I would invoke the vision of the tiger.' For all the grim candor with which she evokes physical deterioration, Clendinnen also persuasively conveys her discovery that 'illness casts you off, but it also cuts you free ... the clear prospect of death only makes living more engaging.' --Wendy Smith Read more From Publishers Weekly Although Australian author Clendinnen is a specialist in ancient Mexican cultures, readers may remember her best for Reading the Holocaust. Here, she turns her historian's eye inward, to make sense of the year when, in her 50s, she was felled by acute liver disease and found that only by writing could she free herself at least psychologically and intellectually from the confines of her hospital bed. Yet Clendinnen does not burden us with a sentimental account of her near-death experience; instead, she carefully explores the root of history, fiction and the self: 'Janus-faced' memory. In the course of writing, Clendinnen discovers that her memory is eel-like, selective, inaccurate and biased, despite her best efforts to pin it down. This realization leads her to new insights about historical inquiry and about the porous border delineating fact and fiction. At one point during her recovery, she was unexpectedly interrupted by hallucinations subconscious dreams that weave bits of her own history with fiction so she decided to try her hand at fiction, producing a series of brief, tantalizing characters and situations that deepen this devastatingly beautiful, intricate and wide-ranging work. Ultimately, though her exploration of 'I' leads to better self-understanding, Clendinnen chooses not to dwell on herself, but to return to history, 'where I began.' Aimed at women of a certain age who are taking stock of themselves and the world around them, Clendinnen's book offers a rare and original meditation on the construction of the self. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Read more See all Editorial Reviews

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