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Early in 1992, scholar and novelist French (The Women's Room, LJ 10/15/87; My Summer with George, LJ 8/96) was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and given virtually no chance of recovery. Here she documents her illness and the various treatments she underwent, the catastrophic results of those treatments, and her recovery. Her doctors cannot explain why she survived, but, although she still suffers residual problems from the treatments, she is now free of cancer. French uses her experiences as a patient as the focal point for sharing her views about the medical establishment (especially its treatment of women) and the importance of a strong support network of friends and family. While she was treated at a major cancer center, she also tried alternative medical therapies with varying degrees of success. She speaks openly about life and death and how her near-death experience altered her priorities. In a lighter vein, she also offers glimpses into an author's lifethe speeches, book signings, and PR tours. French's powerful memoir, well balanced in its presentation, is recommended for all public libraries.Sherry Feintuch, East Shore Lib., Harrisburg, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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From 1992 through part of 1996, French endured a horrific battle with esophageal cancer and a "virtual return from the dead." Every possible health-related indignity is recounted here as she tells the reader far more about her hellish ordeal than most will want to know. The author takes great pains to ventilate about every unpleasantness she has endured (from male M.D.'s who "belittle" French by calling her a "tough lady," to "obtuse" book reviewers who fail to appreciate her writing, as well as the quotidian irritations of the world at large). Thankfully, she does express gratitude to her devoted children and her caring, high-profile female friends (Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, etc.). This Job's litany of horror is, however, a nightmare endured by a wealthy, much-honored literary giant, and a little acknowledgment of the many who suffer similar catastrophes without the status or financial wherewithal would have been nice. Although brief glimmers of growth and self-introspection appear every 40 or 50 pages, far more often the reader is presented with the author's calendar activity list, which resemble afterthoughts. Only one in five esophageal cancer victims survives, so it cannot be denied that French beat the odds. But such a talented writer should have known that a prolonged rant would not inspire others facing similar hardships. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
A graceful, uncompromising account of French's diagnosis of, treatment for, and survival of esophageal cancer. From the moment she felt her first symptoms under a warm Florida sun, the politically savvy, intellectual, and defiantly feminist author of The Women's Room (1977), Our Father (1994), and The War Against Women (1992) knew she was in trouble. Despite her doctor's attempts to placate her, she was convinced that she had cancer. No one else was: as French quickly realized, doctors routinely discount their patients' own self-knowledge. Only as her tumor metastasized, spreading from her esophagus to her lymph nodes, was her hunch confirmed. And with her diagnosis, French began an ordeal she barely survived. The title of her memoir refers as much to her experience with the medical establishment as it does to Rimbaud's poem of the same title. For the curious, demanding writer was exactly the kind of patient whom doctors abhor. The drama she relates is terrible in its familiarity, yet French makes it new, infusing her story with love, humor, and outrage. In one memorable instance, a supercilious doctor barely involved with her case appeared before her adult children and ``loudly announced that I had stopped breathing during the night, that the cancer had spread to the brain stem, and that I was dead.'' This wasnt so; French was very much alive. At times, her narrative slows with the inclusion of one too many famous names (including such well-known figures as Gloria Steinem and TV anchorwoman Carol Jenkins). Still, the tale smoothly combines personal testimony and political ire. Only in the books last chapters, devoted to the excruciatingly painful and slow process of her recovery, does French get lost in the minutiae of illness. A rousing condemnation of medical ignorance and sexism, revealed in the story of a woman's struggle to live.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Named after Rimbaud's famous exploration of altered states of consciousness, French's memoir of her victory over esophageal cancer, a disease rarely survived, is hellish indeed. She underwent aggressive concurrent chemotherapy and radiation, experienced several close brushes with death, and came through a six-week-long coma and a postcoma accident. She writes with biting anger of the health professionals who offered no hope and less compassion, with scorn for certain well-known medical organizations, and with tenderness for those who helped and encouraged. Her multiple hospitalizations during four years and her explorations of alternative New Age therapies and more traditional Western medicine have us turning pages through one gruesome episode after another. She convinces us, though, that her position as a well-known author helped her survive an ordeal that would have claimed the life of one less able to afford services and treatments that perhaps made the difference between recuperation and death--which is surely an indictment of an increasingly two-tiered health-care system. --Whitney Scott