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Posthumous Cancer Memoirs: Background information when reading The Unwinding of the Miracle

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The Unwinding of the Miracle

A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After

by Julie Yip-Williams

The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams X
The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2020, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Posthumous Cancer Memoirs

This article relates to The Unwinding of the Miracle

Print Review

Once or twice each year, I find a superb memoir in which the author comes to terms with mortality after a diagnosis of incurable cancer. Sometimes when I look up more information about the author I'm relieved to learn they're still alive (e.g. Kate Bowler, Clive James and Christian Wiman). But sometimes I see an end date to the life span, which somehow adds extra poignancy to what is often the author's only published book. Such was the case with the four authors below, whose posthumous memoirs I highly recommend.

Late FragmentsLate Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life) by Kate Gross
A high-flying British civil servant who worked with Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and later helped Blair found an NGO in Africa, Gross was shocked to learn in her early thirties that her occasional "bottom trouble" was end-stage colon cancer with liver metastases. She balances a brief recounting of her life with observations about terminal illness and trying to ensure a good future for her five-year-old twin sons. The value of literature, the cultivation of "bitter gratitude," and the importance of sharing yourself with others are among her major themes. She died at age 36 in 2014. Late Fragments has not been published in the US, but is available through various resellers.

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Kalanithi saw both sides of the medical world: He was a harried neurosurgery resident making life and death decisions and marveling at the workings of the brain; and he was the patient with terminal lung cancer wondering how to make the most of his remaining time with his family. In both roles his mantra was "What makes human life meaningful?" That question kept him shuttling between science, literature, and religion. His eloquent prose, with frequent scriptural allusions, narrates his past, present and future – the legacy he leaves behind him, including this Pulitzer-nominated book and his baby daughter. He died at age 37 in 2015.

SkyboundSkybound: A Journey in Flight by Rebecca Loncraine
For Loncraine, taking flying lessons in an unpowered glider was a way of rediscovering joy and experiencing freedom after grueling treatment for breast cancer. She was a freelance writer based on her parents' farm in Wales, and the history and geography of that region weave through, as do her childhood memories and recollections of chemotherapy. The book is full of exhilarating descriptions of being thousands of feet up in the air. As one pioneer of gliding, then in his nineties, told her, "The antidote to fear is fascination," and she faced her fears through a late obsession with the sky. She died at age 42 in 2016. Skybound has not been published in the US, but is available through various resellers.

The Bright HourThe Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
"No one dies from one small spot," Nina Riggs and her husband told themselves. Until it wasn't just a spot of cancer but a tumor that required a mastectomy; then there was the severe back pain that indicated metastases in her spine. Riggs was a great-great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and she quotes from her ancestor's essays as well as from Michel de Montaigne's philosophy to put things into perspective. She started out as a poet, and you can tell. In this book she is wonderfully wry and honest, an expert at capturing the moments that make life alternately euphoric and unbearable – sometimes both at once. She died at age 39 in 2017.

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Article by Rebecca Foster

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Unwinding of the Miracle. It originally ran in February 2019 and has been updated for the March 2020 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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