Summary and book reviews of The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams

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

Book Summary

As a young mother facing a terminal diagnosis, Julie Yip-Williams began to write her story, a story like no other. What began as the chronicle of an imminent and early death became something much more - a powerful exhortation to the living.

That Julie Yip-Williams survived infancy was a miracle. Born blind in Vietnam, she narrowly escaped euthanasia at the hands of her grandmother, only to flee with her family the political upheaval of her country in the late 1970s. Loaded into a rickety boat with three hundred other refugees, Julie made it to Hong Kong and, ultimately, America, where a surgeon at UCLA gave her partial sight. She would go on to become a Harvard-educated lawyer, with a husband, a family, and a life she had once assumed would be impossible. Then, at age thirty-seven, with two little girls at home, Julie was diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer, and a different journey began.

The Unwinding of the Miracle is the story of a vigorous life refracted through the prism of imminent death. When she was first diagnosed, Julie Yip-Williams sought clarity and guidance through the experience and, finding none, began to write her way through it - a chronicle that grew beyond her imagining. Motherhood, marriage, the immigrant experience, ambition, love, wanderlust, tennis, fortune-tellers, grief, reincarnation, jealousy, comfort, pain, the marvel of the body in full rebellion - this book is as sprawling and majestic as the life it records. It is inspiring and instructive, delightful and shattering. It is a book of indelible moments, seared deep - an incomparable guide to living vividly by facing hard truths consciously.

With humor, bracing honesty, and the cleansing power of well-deployed anger, Julie Yip-Williams set the stage for her lasting legacy and one final miracle: the story of her life.

1

Death, Part One

March 1976, Tam Ky, South Vietnam

When I was two months old, my parents, on orders from my paternal grandmother, took me to an herbalist in Da Nang and offered the old man gold bars to give me a concoction that would make me sleep forever. Because I was born blind, to my Chinese grandmother, I was broken. I would be a burden and an embarrassment to the family. Unmarriageable. Besides, my grandmother reasoned, she was showing me mercy—I would be spared a miserable existence.

That morning, my mother dressed me in old baby clothes soiled with brownish-yellow stains from my sister's or brother's shit that she had not been able to wash away, even after countless scrubbings. My grandmother had ordered my mother to put me in these clothes and now stood in the doorway to my parents' bedroom, watching my mother dress me. "It would be a waste for her to wear anything else," she said when my mother was finished, as if to confirm the rightness of her instruction.

These were ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In alternating between hope and horror, anger and awe, The Unwinding of a Miracle feels true to life. A pair of letters, one written to her daughters and another to her husband, is particularly wrenching, as is the epilogue Joshua Williams wrote in June 2018, three months after Julie died at age 42. This posthumous memoir stands as a testament to a remarkable life of overcoming adversity, asking questions, and appreciating beauty wherever it's found...continued

Full Review (797 words).

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
The impressively raw honesty of her howls of protest and pain, and her admission of her occasional failures as a wife and mother, are let down by the rather trite reflections elsewhere in the book on love and finding meaning in her suffering...[Yet] the book contains many powerful and perceptive passages that vividly convey the via dolorosa of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in the American health-care system, with its agonies of choice and false hope, punctuated by periods of happiness and despair.

New York Times
Eloquent, gutting and at times disarmingly funny...Yip-Williams writes with such vibrancy and electricity even as she is dying...This memoir is so many things—a triumphant tale of a blind immigrant, a remarkable philosophical treatise and a call to arms to pay attention to the limited time we have on this earth. But at its core, it’s an exquisitely moving portrait of the daily stuff of life: family secrets and family ties, marriage and its limitlessness and limitations, wild and unbounded parental love and, ultimately, the graceful recognition of what we can’t—and can—control.

Kirkus Reviews
The human confrontation with death - stark and painful and often inspiring.

Library Journal
...writing this book gave her purpose and understanding before her death at age 42. It humbles you.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Inspiring and remarkable ... [Yip-Williams's] wise and moving account of her battle with cancer is an extraordinary call to live wholeheartedly.

Author Blurb Lucy Kalanithi
In this searing memoir of increasing vulnerability, she dismantles and then reconstructs what it means to be triumphant. Her writing examines not only her disability and illness - and their cultural, medical, and narrative constructs - but love, authenticity, hope, egotism, even rage. I didn't know Julie, but in these pages, I grew to love her.

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Beyond the Book

Posthumous Cancer Memoirs

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 ...

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