MLA Platinum Award Press Release

BookBrowse Reviews Sick by Porochista Khakpour

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Sick

A Memoir

by Porochista Khakpour

Sick by Porochista Khakpour X
Sick by Porochista Khakpour
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2018, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2018, 272 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


An Iranian-American novelist examines how chronic illness has affected her life.

Porochista Khakpour can't remember a time when she didn't feel unwell and like she wanted to escape. "I had no idea what normal was. I never felt good," she writes in her bracing memoir, Sick. Although she has struggled with late-stage Lyme disease (see 'Beyond the Book') for about a decade, the feeling of things being not quite right in her body began much earlier. She dates her body dysmorphia to childhood. Born in Iran but raised near Los Angeles, she always felt gawky – too tall, with frizzy hair and no athletic ability. Her body was a site of mysterious ailments like tremors and fainting, so she escaped into books and writing. "I decided the life of the body would be a secret life and that I was in it for the brain anyway."

Related to this sense of not being at home in her body was the feeling of not having a place where she fit in. "There was never a home for me as a human in the world," she writes and as a reflection of this rootlessness she titles the chapters of her book after the places she has lived: Los Angeles, New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Santa Fe, small-town Pennsylvania, and Leipzig, Germany. Some of these locations are repeated as she rotates through cities looking for somewhere to put down roots and someone to settle down with.

From her drug-fueled college years at Sarah Lawrence to her precarious current life in Harlem with her pet poodle, New York is the one place that keeps recurring. As a child Khakpour emulated her aunt, a chic artist who lived in New York, and it felt like the right place for someone who wanted to be at the heart of literary culture. Despite her nomadic lifestyle, then – a creative writing program in Baltimore, teaching at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, and earning a fellowship place at Leipzig – New York is where she keeps coming back to, and it has provided the cosmopolitan energy behind her two novels, Sons and Other Flammable Objects (2007) and The Last Illusion (2014).

While her professional life took off when her debut was plucked from the publisher's slush pile, poor health has been a barrier to possible success. Throughout Sick, Khakpour gives excellent descriptions of the physical and mental symptoms that hold her back: "First the thick burnt fog of melancholy...[then a] sticky inability to express my thoughts, hot pangs of fear and cold dread at unpredictable times, a foundation of anxiety, and panic...all unified toward that endless evil white, insomnia." Along with the depression that heralds her Lyme relapses come the more stereotypical symptoms of joint pain and muscle aches.

Sick opens with an Author's Note that sets out the facts of Lyme disease as Khakpour has experienced it, so readers know from the start that this is her primary illness. Yet, as she traces her life from late-1970s Iran to present-day New York, we see that she has had Lyme-type symptoms for many years, perhaps even from hiking with her parents in California at age five. She had ironic run-ins with Lyme – a boyfriend's mother had it, as did an old greyhound she adopted – but never considered it could be relevant to her until she came back from a vacation to Mexico in 2009 with a bull's eye rash from a tick bite. This warranted a trip to the ER. Even so, it took two more years to get a definitive diagnosis.

Khakpour's story is a powerful one of being mired in sickness and not getting the necessary help from medical professionals. Doctors insisted her problems were psychological; one even recommended that she check into a psych ward. It's also clear just how time-consuming and expensive being a chronic patient can be. "My full-time job became my health, which was now a mystery illness that was hopelessly complicated by...addiction to psychiatric medications," she confesses. Although she doesn't explain how she arrived at that number, Khakpour estimates that Lyme disease has cost her $140,000 thus far and a lack of money and health insurance likely delayed her diagnosis by years.

There is, unfortunately, some inherent repetition in a book of this nature. At times it feels like an endless cycle of doctors, appointments, and treatment strategies ranging from a paleo diet and alternative medicines to benzodiazepines, drugs used to treat anxiety. The details of her many jobs and relationships can blend into one. However, the overall arc of struggling with one's body and coming to terms with limitations will resonate widely. Chronic illness, particularly the disproportionate effect it has on women, has been a major theme in recent nonfiction. It's this broader context that will bring the author a readership beyond those who recognize Khakpour's name from her fiction and journalism.

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

This review is from the Sick. It first ran in the August 1, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Chronic Lyme Disease

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Black Cathedral
    The Black Cathedral
    by Marcial Gala
    Marcial Gala's The Black Cathedral, translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner, is narrated through...
  • Book Jacket: When We Were Vikings
    When We Were Vikings
    by Andrew David MacDonald
    In When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald, readers are first introduced to Zelda on her ...
  • Book Jacket: How to Build a Heart
    How to Build a Heart
    by Maria Padian
    Maria Padian is well-known for her motif of exploring teen reactions to social issues. Her novel ...
  • Book Jacket: Follow Me to Ground
    Follow Me to Ground
    by Sue Rainsford
    Ada and her father are human-like beings who age slowly and possess the power to heal all illness. ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Sun Down Motel
    by Simone St. James

    The chilling new novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Red Letter Days
    by Sarah-Jane Stratford

    A striking novel about two daring women who escape McCarthy-era Hollywood for London.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
American Dirt
by Jeanine Cummins

"American Dirt is a Grapes of Wrath for our times."
—Don Winslow

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Lost Family

The Lost Family
by Libby Copeland

A deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A F I Need I A F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.