Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A DNF I feel really bad about - The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar


I absolutely love Thrity Umrigar's writing and there is nothing negative that I can say about The World We Found. I just want to make that clear, up front. Her writing is really quite stunning. I read The Space Between Us in 2005, pre-blogging, and some of the images from that book are still seared into my brain. I don't think I'll ever forget the ending and I've desired to read more of her writing, ever since.

So, why did I set The World We Found aside? Because nearly 4 years after watching my mother take her last breath, I still cannot bear to read about a character dying of cancer. If anyone could get me past that mental block, I think it would be Thrity Umrigar. But, apparently not even her skill and the knowledge that the book is about old friends gathering together one last time (I do love a book about a gathering of close female friends) was enough to keep me going. It was this bit that stopped me:
Armaiti nodded absently, remembering the small, dark bedroom in which her mother had died. After staying up half the night holding her mother's hand she had finally dosed [sic] off for a few minutes. When she awoke her mother's hand was cold and she was dead. Armaiti had sat holding that hand, taking in the bald head, the sunken eyes, the bony forearms whose papery skin was covered with bluish-black marks. She had not cried. Not then. Instead . . .
[--p. 17, Advanced Reader's Edition of The World We Found; changes may have been made to the final edition]
I stopped right there, unable to breathe, to read another word. It's not my experience, not exactly. But, the description of Armaiti's mother's body . . . oh, man. Too, too close. I couldn't go on. I don't want to live with Armaiti as she says goodbye to her friends, her family, and life. I don't want to be reminded of my loss. Coincidentally, I also lost an aunt to brain cancer, Armaiti's killer disease.

You can tell how mature and lovely Umrigar's writing is, just from the excerpt, though, can't you? I flipped back to the cover flap to see if I'd overlooked the word "cancer" when I requested The World We Found from HarperCollins. Nope, they used the words "gravely ill". That assuages my guilt a bit. I've offered my copy of The World We Found to a blogging buddy who happens to have it listed as a book she intends to read and am waiting for a response to see if she already owns a copy. Regardless, I'll find the book a home it deserves, where it can be read fully and appreciated.

Update: I have found a new (blogging buddy!) home for my copy of The World We Found! Very happy about that. Many thanks to all for the support. Your comments mean the world to me.


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34 comments:

  1. Yep, some books are just too much like real life. I want escape and enjoyment (for the most part) in my books, not a replay of my life or my job!

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    1. Exactly. I have trouble reading about people being unplugged after being comatose, too. But, it's been over 20 years since I lost my father to the latent effects of a head injury and I can at least read a scene, now, even if it turns me into a soggy, heaving mess. LOL

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  2. Nancy, I don't think you should feel bad about this DNF. I don't think even the author would feel bad about your decision. It took me a long time to be able to read about Alzheimer's and dementia. Even when I do (and I do if only to see if the author "gets" it), I usually read through tears. If I think the author has an inkling, I write to them and tell them so. And thank them. However, that's my own little quirk. Hugs to you. It's hard, I know.

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    1. Thanks, Kay, I appreciate your comment. I'm trying not to feel rotten about this. It's mostly the fact that I *requested* the book. Argh. I still worry that I might have overlooked the word "cancer" in the publicity material. I avoid absolutely everything that has that word in the description but I know I really jumped at the idea of reading another Thrity Umrigar book. That's so sweet of you to write authors to thank them when they get dementia descriptions right. I'm sure they appreciate it! And, thank you for the hugs. Hugs to you, too.

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  3. Sometimes we just cannot go there...and I completely respect your honesty. Please know that I have been there myself with books and I think it is understandable....it is also a compliment to the author's writing that she could emotionally impact you that way.

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. Yes, I do believe you're right that it's a compliment to her writing. She can express a great deal with great emotional impact in few words. That's probably why I loved The Space Between Us so much. :)

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  4. Wow, my heart hurts for you. Thank you for sharing that very personal piece of yourself. I do appreciate it. My dad died about 18 months ago from cancer as well. When Joe Paterno died on Sunday so suddenly after diagnosis I stood there in the kitchen and wept. Just hearing the cancer word is very hard for me and we didn't have time to even ponder anything beyond a surgery, let alone a lengthy treatment. Although I have always wanted to read one of Umrigar's books I know that I will not start with this one.

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    1. Oh, Gaye, I'm so sorry for your loss. The pain is still very raw after only 18 months, isn't it? I feel like I've improved in the past year or so, but the loss of a parent is always rough and the way you lost them . . . I guess that will always touch a nerve. I can read about someone having to be unplugged after a coma, 21 years after my father's death, but it still shreds me. Yes, skip this title, but I highly recommend The Space Between Us. I'm pretty sure that was Umrigar's first book. It's exceptional. I've still got my copy.

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  5. I have had this reaction to a book. It took me two months to read a 180-ish page memoir because it talked about someone's grandparents committing suicide. I had two go that route, and it was hard reading. I had to do it in very small doses. Maybe you can come back to this one day. It's a great read.

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    1. Cassandra,

      I doubt I'll ever return to this particular book. I really tried to avoid "cancer books" well before my mother's death, although I did read some. In fact, I read a memoir by a cancer patient while I was taking care of my mother. Hard to believe, now. I don't know that I'll ever be able to read one, again. But, there are plenty of other books to read; I'll just be more careful and ask for details when I see words like "gravely ill". I'm so sorry about your loss. I'm impressed that you managed to finish the memoir, really.

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  6. Some books are just too close to home. There's no reason you should feel guilty about abandoning this one.

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    1. Yes, this one hit too close to home, for sure. I only feel guilty because it's an ARC and I requested it. If it was just a book I picked up off the shelf and purchased on a whim, I'd feel bad about wasting my money, but not guilty for not finishing. All these supportive comments are really helping me feel better about it. Thanks, Jeane!

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  7. I actually hate books about cancer and avoid it if at all possible. Thanks for letting me know what this book was about because I noticed my library had it and I almost requested it... I am not sure what it is for me about the whole topic, I have read books in the past, but maybe there have just been too many people I know that I can't handle reading about it, too.

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    1. Kelly,

      When I was quite young, I read several books about people fighting cancer -- one about a teenager who fought leukemia and died, one that was turned into a many-hankie movie (Brian's Song). I was touched but they didn't upset me, you know? Now, it's completely different. But, I can see why you'd want to avoid them merely on the basis of the experiences of those around you. The older we become, the more people we know who have been touched by cancer. If it bugs you, skip this one and grab one of her other books. I can only recommend The Space Between Us, but I think they're all very emotional reads. I love an emotionally engaging book and don't mind a sad ending . . . jut not cancer. I may look into getting a copy of her previous novel.

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  8. It sounds like this was almost too well written for you. Maybe one day you'll be able to go back to it.

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    1. Kathy,

      There's no denying that Umrigar's writing rocks. "Too well written" is a definite possibility. It really did literally take my breath away when I got to that particular scene. I don't think I'll return to this one, ever (I did find it a new home -- woot!) but I'm thinking maybe I'll seek out her last book or reread The Space Between Us.

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  9. I loved The Space Between Us. There are images that remain in my brain, too, several hundred books later. I can understand why you couldn't finish this one...some experiences are just too close for comfort.

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    1. Jenclair,

      Wasn't The Space Between Us amazing? I'm thinking it may be due for a reread. It's amazing how vivid the memory of particular scenes are, as you said, "several hundred books later." Not many authors can boast that kind of sticking power. Thanks. Yes, too close for comfort. Onward. :)

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  10. Don't feel bad, I don't think I could have finished it either. I have a hard time reading very descriptive books about cancer. I don't mind realistic fiction, but sometimes it hits too close to home.

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    1. Anna,

      I'm sorry you've been touched by cancer, as well. It's such a vicious disease. Thanks for the support. I can't even begin to tell you how much the comments to this post mean to me.

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  11. I can totally understand why you had to put this one aside. There are topics that I have found that I cannot read about as well, and though I have struggled through a few books that dealt with them, I ended up feeling totally destroyed for awhile after having read them. The fact that this book was too painful for you to read is not a judgement on you. We all have different sore spots, and different levels of tolerance. Speaking as someone who has a family member who is losing the battle with cancer right now, I probably couldn't read it either.

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    1. Zibilee,

      I am so sorry about your family member. Yes, best avoid this one. You bring up an interesting point. Is it worth that feeling of exhaustion and sadness after you read a book that is just too much for you? I guess it depends on the book. If it's one that causes us to think and act on something important, that's one thing, but if we just end up leaving a book shattered and depressed, that's entirely different. I still feel a little numb, two days after I read a tiny piece of The World We Found. No, it wouldn't have been worth the pain. It's as worthwhile to know what we can't get through as it is to know what we enjoy, then, yes?

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  12. I can most certainly appreciate this problem. Chuck's mom died of lung cancer, and beyond that issues of grief and passing touch me on a very personal, sore level. No matter how beautiful, sometimes it just doesn't fly.

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    1. I didn't realize Chuck's mom died of cancer, Andi. Yes, once you've lost someone you love, it becomes much more personal when you read about someone going through the cancer battle. I'm sure it's okay for some people but judging from the comments, it sounds like most of us don't want to read about that particular horror after going through it. I do love Umrigar's writing. I'll just have to backtrack to another of her books.

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  13. I might find myself in the same boat with this book. Too soon; too familiar. Thanks for the heads up.

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    1. You're welcome, Marie. I hope I'm not driving too many people away from this book, but I definitely prefer to be forewarned specifically about the topic. "Gravely ill" is pretty general. Sorry you had a cancer loss, too.

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  14. Some things just can't be shared.

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    1. So true, Carrie. And, it doesn't matter what the cause. It still stings when you're faced with the memories. ((Hugs))

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  15. I think your reaction is completely understandable. Having read the book I have to say that most of the rest of the story ends up being about the girls in India. I was actually surprised that it wasn't more about Armaiti. It ends up focusing more on Nishta and her situation, and how her friends help her.

    That being said, I think you are completely justified in not finishing it and I don't think you need to feel guilty at all.

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    1. I had a feeling it would be mostly about the friendship but I just couldn't get past that section from Armaiti's POV. Oh, well. I tried and the book will be happy when it arrives at its new home. Thanks, Alyce. I don't usually feel guilty. Don't know why this one hit me that way. As Andi said in her recent post at Estella's Revenge, nobody's paying me. Some books you just can't get through.

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  16. {{{hugs}}}
    and thank you.

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    1. Thank you and you're welcome, Carrie. :)

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  17. I have both books in my stacks and have heard wonderful things about this author. I can understand your reaction to The World We Found and I'm sure the author & publicist understand your reasons for not finishing. Go easy on yourself. There's no reason to suffer through anything that stirs up heartbreak and sadness.

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    1. I'm over it, now. I just felt back because not only because I requested the book (and worried that I didn't read the description - just requested blindly) but also because I love, love, love the author and was disappointed that I couldn't get farther. But, that passage just hit too close to home. I can't even bear to think about it, honestly.

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