A memoir of reinvention after a stroke at 33, based on the author's viral Buzzfeed essay.
Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache on New Year's Eve 2006. By that afternoon she saw the world - quite literally - upside down. By New Year's Day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. And after hours in the ER, days in the hospital, and multiple questions and tests, she learned that she had had a stroke.
For months Lee outsourced her memories to her notebook. It is from these memories that she has constructed this frank and compelling memoir. In a precise and captivating narrative, Lee navigates fearlessly between chronologies, weaving her childhood humiliations and joys together with the story of the early days of her marriage and then later, in painstaking, painful, and unflinching detail, her stroke and every upset, temporary or permanent, that it causes.
Lee processes her stroke and illuminates the connection between memory and identity in an honest, meditative, and truly funny manner, utterly devoid of self-pity. And as she recovers, she begins to realize that this unexpected and devastating event provides a catalyst for coming to terms with her true self.
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Interesting but repetitive; melodramatic reading
I think that some of the emotion could have been turned down a bit. I understand that this was a fraught time and situation, but there were times the emotional swings distracted from the content.
I think I would have preferred a more linear narrative, more context for her childhood and young adult life, and more detail and reckoning with some of the traumas she mentions only in passing (she gives minimal actual introspection and explanation for her divorce, for a rape, and for some of her childhood).
This is the memoir of a woman who suffered a stroke at age 33, her recovery, and how that recovery altered her life. Hyung-Oak Lee was in the midst of an MFA program and her writing definitely shows that her natural bent is toward fiction. As she recounts the first few days when she had suffered a stroke but no one had figured it out yet, the book is at its best. She describes how the world appeared to her, how language became slippery and foreign, how light and sound became distracting and at time unbearable. Likewise, once she and her husband finally go to get emergency care, as she is admitted and tested, her retelling of those days and the corresponding fears and sensations, encounters and confusion, is sharp and poignant. Where the memoir is less effective is in describing her recovery. Parts feel melodramatic, some parts feel included for shock value, and other parts get repetitive (she repeats certain anecdotes, phrases, and memories). She makes the point that during her stroke, she was taken out of time -- her short term memory was damaged and as such, there was no real past, present, and future, and she found herself sometimes remembering things from long term memory as if they were now. She clearly was trying to duplicate this for the reader, but it feels jarring and forced, not revealing. What's more, she often skirts around other traumas in her life by either only obliquely mentioning them, or mentioning them out of nowhere and never going into appropriate depth (a brief few paragraphs on a rape were all the more shocking as she spent little time on it; discussions of her childhood were piecemeal and lacked continuity and greater context). While I entirely admire Hyung-Oak Lee's tenacity and will to heal, this memoir feels like it needed more polishing (and maybe a stronger editor or more drafts) before publication.
- S. Yates
Frustrating and depressing.