Tag Archives: survival

The River

Between Me and the River by Carrie Host (Harlequin)

Review by Ilie Ruby, author of The Language of Trees: A Novel.

Few of us are well-versed in what it takes to save our own lives.   Carrie Host is.

Between Me and the River is a heartbreaking, glorious, and poetic rendering that spans several years of a young woman’s life during which her body is ravaged by a slow-growing but deadly form of cancer.   It is also the story of a woman saved by her inner resources, and the buoying love of her husband and three children.   In Between Me and the River, Host intimately describes her battles and triumphs in nail-biting detail.   While difficult to read at times, Host’s cut to the quick candor keeps the reader engaged as she takes us on a journey into the labyrinth of the medical system, as she rebuilds her body, brick by metaphorical brick, only to have it ravaged again.  

Her lyrical descriptions provide a reprieve from the harsh realities of a life forever on the “river” – a metaphor that she uses for her cancer.   At once poet and realist, Host’s struggle to make peace with her disease provides a compelling narrative that propels the reader to turn the book’s pages with care, hanging on to Host’s voice as though it’s a life raft through the unknown rapid waters she so bravely navigates, even when it appears she will drown.   Yet, through it all, one has the feeling she’s got her eyes set on the horizon, far enough in the distance to see herself across the river.

Sometimes the river is torrid.   Sometimes it stops moving completely.   Emboldened with a fighting spirit even as her 5’7′ body drops from a healthy 135 to a haunting 97 pounds, rendering her unable to hold her head up let alone hold a new baby, the future looks bleak.   But treatment after treatment, she fights and holds on, wrestling with her own spirituality and drawing epiphanies about herself and her relationships – the sort that come from the deepest depths of despair – that bless her with an uncommon peace that only those who have visited death’s door can intimately understand.

Host navigates the river as she enters into complicated dialogues with friends, her children, and her husband, all of whom, at times, she believes she may never see again.   She describes the desperation and frustration she feels when hiring someone to care for her children, to do the things she is supposed to be doing as she feels herself falling into a shadow of her former self when cancer seems to be winning.  

This is a story that shakes the reader to the core, one not for the faint of heart, but certainly a worthy one.   Host, caught in the middle of a glorious life, could have been any one of us…  yet, she is no longer like us.   She is different, as only a woman can be when she has touched death’s door and returned with as many scars as gifts.  

This book teaches us powerful lessons about love, letting go, and forgiveness, about the quest for health and the fight to survive, about savoring every small moment with the same enthusiasm and appreciation as all the grand moments put together.   In the end, it is Host’s determination and wisdom that bring her back fighting.   Hers is a voice not easily forgotten, one that makes a reader wish her many more healthy years, for surely she has many more gifts to share with us.

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Between Me and the River

Between Me and the River: Living Beyond Cancer by Carrie Host (Harlequin; $22.95; 304 pages)

Carrie Host’s book Between Me and the River is a moving memoir that chronicles her journey and struggles to survive an incurable form of cancer.   In the book, Carries shares all the pain, physical and emotional, she went through after her diagnosis.   She also relates the guilt she felt and anger at her new life.   But more than that, she provides a story of hope, love and self-awareness that many of us have never felt in our lives.

Host compares her trial in dealing with cancer to falling in a river.   Whether sinking into the deep water, rushing toward a waterfall, or resting in an eddy, it’s easy to identify with her as she explains where in the river she feels on any particular day.   It is heart wrenching to read of her account (being a mother of five) of how she delivered the news of her fate to her children, to follow along as she struggles to do the simplest tasks a mother must do, and to see her relationship with her husband flourish under the strain of what they have to deal with.

I applaud Carrie for having the courage to write so openly and honestly about her disease.   Reading this book has changed my life in a profound way.   It has made me more patient and loving with my children and more thankful of my husband.   While Host’s book at first is a heavy read, as you turn more pages you start to see the positive impact this devastation has on her family, her friends and her own consciousness.   Overall I found this book very easy to read, though I had to put it down at times to wipe the tears away.   I would definitely keep a tissue handy.

This review was written by Denna Gibbons and is used with her permission.   You can see more of her reviews at http://www.thebookwormblog.com/ .   Between Me and the River is also available in a low-cost Kindle Edition version and as an Unabridged Audio Edition.

 

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A Sneak Peek

Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans by Brian Fagan (Bloomsbury Press, $28.00)

Four dots move along a riverbank in a black and gray Ice Age landscape of 40,000 years ago, the only sign of life on a cold, late autumn day.   Dense morning mist swirls gently over the slow-moving water, stirring fitfully in an icy breeze.   Pine trees crowd on the riverbank, close to a large clearing where aurochs and bison paw through the snow for fodder.   The fur-clad family move slowly — a hunter with a handful of spears, his wife carrying a leather bag of dried meat, a son and daughter.   The five-year-old boy dashes to and fro brandishing a small spear.   His older sister stays by her mother, also carrying a skin bag.   A sudden gust lifts the clinging gloom on the far side of the stream.  

Suddenly, the boy shouts and points, then runs in terror to his mother.   The children burst into tears and cling to her.   A weathered, hirsute face with heavy brows stares out quietly from the undergrowth on the other bank.   Expressionless, yet watchful, its owner stands motionless, seemingly oblivious to the cold.   The father looks across, waves his spear and shrugs.   The face vanished as silently as it had appeared.

As light snow falls, the family resume their journey, the father as always watchful, eyes never still.   During the climb to the rock shelter, he tells his children about their elusive, quiet neighbors, rarely seen and almost never encountered face to face.   There had been more of them in his father’s and grandfather’s day, when he had seen them for the first time.   Now sightings are unusual, especially in the cold months.   They are people different from us, he explains.   They do not speak like we do; we cannot understand them, but they never do us any harm.   We just ignore them…

Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals:  this most classic of historical confrontations, sometimes couched in terms of brutish savagery versus human sophistication, has fascinated archaeologists for generations.   On the side stand primordial humans, endowed with great strength and courage, possessed of the simplest of clothing and weaponry, seemingly incapable of fluent speech, with only limited intellectual powers.   On the other are the Cro-Magnons, the first anatomically modern Europeans, with articulate speech, innovation, and all the impressive cognitive abilities of Homo sapiens.   They harvest game large and small effortlessly with highly efficient weapons and enjoy a complex, sophisticated relationship with their environment, their prey, and the forces of the supernatural world.   We know that the confrontation ended with the extinction of the Neanderthals, perhaps about 30,000 years ago.   But how it unfolded remains one of the most challenging and fascinating of all Ice Age mysteries.

This is an excerpt from the book Cro-Magnon, released by Bloomsbury Press on March 2, 2010.   Very recent research on ancient DNA samples suggests that some Neanderthals may have interbred with modern humans (Cro- Magnons); a fascinating concept meaning that modern human beings are composed of both the winners and losers of this evolutionary battle of rival creatures.   We expect to post a review of Cro-Magnon on this site in the future. 

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Every Last One

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Random House, April 13, 2010)

“Most of our fears are petty and small…  Only our love is monumental.”

In Every Last One, author Anna Quindlen gives us a monumental – yet quietly reserved – look at the life of a typical American family, before and after the family is rocked by an unimaginable tragedy.   This is the story of Mary Beth Latham, basically a stay-at-home mom who operates a landscaping business; her ophthalmologist husband, Glen; daughter Ruby; and her fraternal twin sons, Max and Alex.   Although we observe their lives through Mary Beth’s eyes, we come to know Ruby the best.   She’s a senior in high school who is about to leave the nest for a yet-to-be-determined college.

Mary Beth at one point ponders whether it is a woman’s role to persevere after everyone she loves has left her.   But she thinks about this at a time when everyone she loves is still close to her.   This is when she’s the woman who worries about the smallest of concerns, when her life goes on as normal.   But normal is not lasting…

Daughter Ruby has known her boyfriend Kiernan since childhood, and he becomes obsessed with her and all of the Lathams.   Kiernan finally becomes less of a boyfriend to Ruby than a stalker, and someone who uses any excuse to keep company with the Lathams.   Ruby realizes that she’s going to have to reject Kiernan soon – and before she departs for her future life.

When tragedy strikes Mary Beth must become a survivor.   Everyone around her fails at offering comfort; instead, they impose their expectations on her as to how they believe she should act.   The people she worked so hard to please, to impress, to be close to all let her down.

Eventually Mary Beth comes to see – as we all must – that she cannot live her life in a manner that pleases others.   She simply must continue, even if the reason for doing so is not completely clear.

“It’s all I know how to do now.   This is my life.   I am trying.”

It is impossible to describe the nature of the tragedy that Mary Beth experiences without betraying the story, and this summary does not disclose it.   Suffice it to say that when it occurs the reader will think that the story is over.   In the hands of a less skilled writer it would be.   But Quindlen is at her best in writing the tale of a woman who is strong when the world believes she has been stripped of the reasons to continue living.

In the end, this novel tells us that you never know what you might be capable of until the situation is there, staring you in the face.   In Mary Beth we find a character who is a stronger person than she ever believed herself capable of being, back when life was relatively untroubled and easy.

“The silence is as big as the sky…”

Author Quindlen teaches the reader that life is not predictable and, further, that one must be prepared to start over at any time.   It is – after all – the nature of every life.   Life, for better or worse, every year, month, day, and each and every minute.   It is all to be treasured, and readers may come to justifiably value this impressive work from the subtly gifted pen and mind of Anna Quindlen.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Lift

Lift by Rebecca K. O’Connor

Lift is the charming and encouraging true story of a woman’s acquisition of a baby peregrine falcon, something that she’s been fascinated with since being a child.   But it is not just the story of a girl and the bird she loves, it’s also about how the falcon helps author Rebecca O’Connor to understand and accept the past and current events in her life.   Most falconers are hunters but a scarred O’Connor is aware that she’s “more prey than predator.”   This is true because she was abandoned by her parents while very young, lost the grandparents who raised her, and is surprised to discover that her boyfriend has different values.

In the life of the soaring falcon, O’Connor observes a creature that is focused on survival, no matter what it takes.   It is, at first, a massive struggle to tame the bird, but then she sees and accepts that this feathered hunter will always maintain his independence.   O’Connor, in a sense, gets to experience freedom and strength vicariously through her peregrine, and it transforms her into a stronger person.

If you liked Alex and Me or Wesley the Owl, there is an extremely good chance that you will love Lift.

Red Hen Press, $18.95, 206 pages

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

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