Monday, February 9, 2009

"Still Alice" Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova's heartbreaking debut novel chonicles the events after Alice Howland, a Harvard professor, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Alice is only 51 years old. She is a respected professor of linguistics at Harvard University, married to a fellow professor at the University, and the mother of three beautiful grown children. At the beginning of the book Alice finds that she is forgetting things more often than usual and unable to articulate the names of a few familair things at times, but she chalks it up to the stress of her busy life as well as menopause and is able to ignore these warning signs for quite some time. One day she finds herself disoriented while walking in Harvard Square, a place that she has been walking in for 25 years, and decides to seek the formal medical opinion of her doctor. What follows is the heartbreaking diagnosis that Alice has early-onset Alzheimer's disease, and that there is nothing that can stop or reverse the disease; she can only hope to slow its progression by taking a cocktail of medicines and vitamins.

Alice quickly finds her memory declining; soon she is unable to read the books that she once loved, find common words in her vocabulary or even remember dates and the time. This book tells the story of Alzheimer's from the patient's view; we feel her confusion as she gets lost or struggles to remember what time of day it is.

This book was a powerful one. "Still Alice" tells the story of an often overlooked disease, and how it affects both the patient and their loved ones. Although telling the story from Alice's point of view was a bold one, it paid off, making the book a window into the world of those with this devastating disease. One scene that really stood out for me (there were several) is the one where Alice wishes that she had cancer instead. She reasons that if she had cancer she would at least be able to fight it, to try to treat it; she also reasons that if she eventually lost her battle with cancer, she would be able to say goodbye to her loved ones and at least know who they all are. It made me wonder how devastating this disease must be if one would rather have cancer than live with Alzheimer's.

I can't say enough about this one: all I can say is that it is a book that needs to be read. Even if you don't have a loved one with this disease (I do, I have an uncle who is suffering from this) it will open your eyes to how a disease that doesn't recieve a lot of attention ravages the minds of those who suffer from it. Very powerful. Unforgettable.

Up Next: I'm torn on what to read next. I have a bookshelf full of wonderful books just waiting to be read, and I want to read them all! I may read "The Weight of a Mustard Seed" for Books for Bloggers, or I may start a biography of Shakespeare for the "Warm Up for Winter Reading Challenge". I'm leaning towards the book on Shakespeare, but we'll see what I pick up after dinner tonight when I have a chance to relax.

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