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Book 3: Still Alice

October 26, 2009


Alzheimer’s took my grandmother away many years ago.  She is not dead physically, but I have not had a meaningful conversation with her in many years.  When her husband, my grandfather died a few months ago, I got the impression that a significant part of my family was gone, never to return.  I have not had much death around me in my life.  I had a 2 friends die while in high school and college but I was not very close with them; at least not enough for it to have the impact it might for others.  I had a few extended family deaths  when I was young but I don’t remember them.  I didn’t know what to expect when my grandfather died.  It wasn’t until months later that I broke down while talking to my cousin on skype.  We finished the conversation with some good ideas bouncing back and forth regarding my future schooling and I immediately called my grandparents, quickly realizing there was nobody there to answer the phone.

Some quick background:  I live in Seoul, but grew up in LA.  This set of grandparents lived in Florida and I didn’t have the same kind of relationship I had with my west coast grandparents.  The difference though, was that I had this relationship in my mind where they were the first people I wanted to tell besides immediate family when major changes have happened in my life.  I believe it has something to do with the connection I felt with them through the stories my father has always told.  This side of the family regales in its history and it has always thrived in my imagination.

What I didn’t grasp until reading this book was my grandparents life toward the end (the past decade or so).  I am not going to tell the story of my grandmother’s battle with alzheimer’s because I don’t know it.  Part of me wishes I did, but the other side thinks I might have been spared something that slowly deteriorates and becomes more and more depressing.

This book is about early onset alzheimer’s.  Its told from the perspective of a tenured harvard professor from the start of her mental deterioration.  The reason I would recommend the book to people with and without family members with the disease is because it is told from the inside out perspective instead of the outside in, which tends to get more clinical in a way that covers up speculation as to the emotional state of the inflicted.

This book is sad.  Really sad.  Specifically because of how vibrant the main character is at the beginning of the novel.  The author, Lisa Genova writes surprisingly well, considering she is a neuroscientist and has never written a book before.

After finishing the book I am stuck thinking about a few things.

1.Myself.  How would I react to contracting this disease at the still adept age of 50, let alone in the twilight years?  Would I want to go on living with this disease after a certain amount of mental instability?

2.My grandmother.  What must it have been like?  So much has been erased from her memory and she is still on this Earth.  The feeling of helplessness must be beyond overwhelming, I couldn’t imagine.

3.Science and Medicine.  This book touches on the people searching for cures through clinical trials and being disappointed by the outcome.  There is a lot of room for optimism, mainly because researchers know what the drug that prevents the symptoms of the disease will accomplish, they just don’t know what combination of things gets the job done.  I think that is a very important step, one that has not been chalked up for that long.

4. Generally unknown afflictions.  500,000 people in the US have early onset alzheimer’s, which inflict people under the age of 65.  This is a very different experience than most people with the disease, many of which are in their mid 80’s.  Many with early onset ares till working when they are diagnosed and spend many years experiencing the symptoms without knowing the cause because many doctors are prone to diagnose depression, stress etc. as the root of the problem.

This book is going to sit with me for a long time.  I expect it to keep coming up in my mind at random moments.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2009 9:09 pm

    Sounds like a very powerful book. Would probably be more effective on me if I had a family member suffering from the disease. I suggest to those that do read that they in tandem watch Deep Blue Sea. The scientist lady is driven beyond her moral and ethical boundaries in order to find a cure for the disease after having watched her father slip away into the abyss.

    • October 26, 2009 11:45 pm

      its true, it would. But I think it still has an impact without, mainly because it doesn’t just show you what people can do with this disability, there is some of that, but it focuses on deterioration of the mind and how horribly frightening that process can be. It made me appreciate what I have a bit more.

  2. Lorie permalink
    November 6, 2009 10:16 pm

    Your comments touched me very deeply.

    • November 7, 2009 6:41 am

      that book changed the way i look at a lot of things. Its hard being so far from family sometimes. I bet you had some trouble with that when you moved to SF

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