Summary and book reviews of The Inward Empire by Christian Donlan

The Inward Empire

Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

by Christian Donlan

The Inward Empire by Christian Donlan X
The Inward Empire by Christian Donlan
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales

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About this Book

Book Summary

In the vein of The Noonday Demon and When Breath Becomes Air, a father's gorgeous account of navigating his own neurological decline while watching in wonder as his young daughter's brain activity blossoms, a stunning examination of neurology, loss, and the meaning of life.

Soon after his daughter Leontine is born, 36-year old Christian Donlan's world shifted an inch to the left. He started to miss door handles and light switches when reaching for them. He was suddenly unable to fasten the tiny buttons on his new daughter's clothes. These experiences were the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis, an incurable and degenerative neurological illness.

As Leontine starts to investigate the world around her, Donlan too finds himself in a new environment, a "spook country" he calls the "Inward Empire," where reality starts to break down in bizarre, frightening, sometimes beautiful ways. Rather than turning away from this landscape, Donlan summons courage and curiosity and sets out to explore, a tourist in his own body. The result is this exquisitely observed, heartbreaking, and uplifting investigation into the history of neurology, the joys and anxieties of fatherhood, and what remains after everything we take for granted - including the functions that make us feel like ourselves - has been stripped away.

Like Andrew Solomon, Paul Kalathini, and William Styron, Donlan brings meaning, grace, playfulness, and dignity to an experience that terrifies and confounds us all.

3.
Help Me

I was twenty-five when I saw what the brain can do.

Dawn in a house that my brother and his wife had recently bought — tall and thin with a spine of creaking staircases running through the center, surrounded by old rooms perfect for the clattering passage of young children, none of whom had yet been born. My dad had woken me from the sofa in the lounge. He brought me up to the big bedroom on the first floor. Inside, my brother was having a grand mal seizure.

I did not want to see Ben having a fit. I had felt, up to this point, that I could either be stoical or informed, and I had chosen stoicism. Dad, however, seemed to understand that I was faking adulthood, that I was a large child loose in the world and that nothing real had ever happened to me. There are ways I have learned to avoid becoming an adult. I can't drive. I never organized a pension until the government did it for me.

I have avoided thinking about this moment for the last decade, and so the memory...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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If Christian's memoir can be distilled down to just one thing it is that a disease of the brain is practice. It takes time to understand and patience to learn to live with. The Inward Empire, Mapping Out the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood is exemplary because it is not the story of an incurable disease, but of a calamitous diagnosis making landfall within a family. Where does illness stop, and humanity begin? As Christian reflects on his health and vulnerability, he makes note of the emotional toll: with illness there can be the beauty of discovery along with the great peril. For him that means focusing on raising his beautiful child while living with an incurable disease. It's a credit to his skill as a writer and thinker that a memoir of MS isn't bleak. Bittersweet? Yes. Tragic? No. Full of wisdom? Yes, a ton of it – but then he is the son of a former monk. His story is of the daily persistence to not give in, an anthem for the sick.   (Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Full Review Members Only (663 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal
As one of the few books that touches upon the intersections of parenthood and chronic illness, it would be easy to recommend this affecting memoir to both communities; it should also find a home among readers of medical memoirs.

Kirkus Reviews
In this poignant book, Donlan finds in curiosity, writing, and family the surest salves for the terror of chronic illness and mortality.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This is a moving, gracefully written story.

The Times (UK)
In this age of compulsory happy endings, books such as [The Inward Empire] are so rare. Donlan manages to be utterly truthful without being depressing, and his passing observations about life in general are often funny.

The Sunday Times (UK)
Remarkable and revelatory, a dazzling achievement.

Author Blurb Will Schwalbe, New York Times bestselling author of The End of Your Life Book Club and Books for Living
Riveting...Donlan writes with vivid candor and startling humor about topics that range from the history of neurology to the maddening grey zone between illness and diagnosis. At its heart, this is a book of awe -- at how the body works and doesn't, how it grows and fails, and how even the most unwelcome events can sometimes help us break free from old ways of thinking to powerful new ones.

Author Blurb Daniel Levitin, New York Times bestselling author of The Organized Mind
An unprecedented first-hand account of the effects of brain disease, and what it is like to have your thoughts shift from under you. Donlan brings us a poetic, compelling and wonderful book. Simply enchanting.

Author Blurb Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life
An amazing and wonderful piece of writing. I could not put it down.

Author Blurb Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author of The Middle Place and Tell Me More
Really beautifully done; [The Inward Empire] reminds me of When Breath Becomes Air. I love it.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

An Incurable Disease Affects Identity

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is not shameful and shouldn't be something that is kept secret. However, an MS diagnosis plays with the mind – and that is before the hallucinations and trembling and tremors begin – and patients can feel like they did something wrong. The Inward Empire: Mapping Out the Wilds of Fatherhood and Mortality Christian Donlan's memoir about MS and fatherhood, should be required reading for every medical school course that focuses on patient life. His perspective as a father and man not yet in middle age struggling as he negotiates a strange disease is rich evidence for practitioners about the ways a disease can affect, not only a person's body, but also their identity.

Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler of Sopranos ...

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