OneHundredNames

How does it feel to marry an award-winning writer? What happens when this wordsmith loses his ability to name himself, let alone string a sentence together? In this harrowing memoir, bestselling author Diane Ackerman recounts the days immediately following her author husband Paul West’s stroke ordeal. She captures in lyrical prose the incident, the stages of recovery and most importantly, the love between the two of them. She spares no details in recounting her own insecurities, fear and struggles in dealing with the Paul during that tumultuous period.

Other stroke memoirs may talk about the physicality of the debilitating aspects of the episode- physiotherapy playing a big part in the recovery process. This memoir however focuses on the language aspect- a pet topic of mine. When stroke takes away language functions, how does a renowned established author like Paul West deal with aphasia and has to wind up relearning language like a child? With his wealth of vocabulary, Paul presents as an interesting case during his recovery; in attempting to describe and access certain things, instead of using a commonplace word such as strange, he uses eldritch, not by choice but by happenstance. To the common folk, this may be gibberish. To Diane, having spent decades with the brilliant writer, it is a hopeful sign of recovery. Through his ordeal, unable to recall Diane’s name, he refers to her in his own way, culminating in the 100 names for love, listed at the back of the book, such as “golden little dreamer” and “little scarab of delight”, and my personal favourite, “She for whom all flowers bloom early”.

While the topic of this book is somber, the beautiful writing renders this a heart-wrenching but enjoyable read.

Check this book out here.