Breath: A Lifetime in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung: A Memoir

Breath: A Lifetime in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung: A Memoir

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by Martha Mason
     
 

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After contracting polio as a young girl Martha Mason of tiny Lattimore, North Carolina, lived a record sixty-one of her seventy-one years in an iron lung until her death in 2009, but she never let the 800-pound cylinder define her. The subject of a documentary film, an NPR feature, an ABC News piece, and a widely syndicated New York Times obituary, Martha

Overview

After contracting polio as a young girl Martha Mason of tiny Lattimore, North Carolina, lived a record sixty-one of her seventy-one years in an iron lung until her death in 2009, but she never let the 800-pound cylinder define her. The subject of a documentary film, an NPR feature, an ABC News piece, and a widely syndicated New York Times obituary, Martha enjoyed life, and people. From within her iron lung, she graduated first in her class in high school and at Wake Forest University, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She was determined to be a writer and, with her devoted mother taking dictation, she became a journalist—but had to give up her career when her father became ill. Still, Martha created for herself a vast and radiant world—holding dinner parties with the table pushed right up to her iron lung, voraciously reading, running her own household, and caring for her mother when she became ill with Alzheimer's and increasingly abusive to Martha. When voice-activated computers became available, Martha wrote Breath, in part as a tribute to her mother. "This book is her story," writes Anne Rivers Siddons in her preface, "told in the rich words of a born writer. That she told it is a gift to everyone who will read it. That she told it is also as near to a miracle as most are likely to encounter."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It’s staggering to conceive of a moment in an 11-year-old girl’s life when she is informed by her doctor that she will never recover from the effects of the polio that left her suddenly paralyzed from the neck down and that she won’t likely live much longer. Mason writes eloquently and without a tinge of self-pity of her long, nightmarish journey from September 1948, when her beloved 13-year-old brother, Gaston, died of polio and she contracted it soon after; confined to an iron lung, she rarely left it for the next 61 years, while living in their rural Lattimore, N.C., home so that her devoted mother could care for her. Yet Mason was determined to transcend the limitations of her inert body: she always wanted to be a writer, and, with her indomitable Job-like mother’s help, finished not only high school with honors but college at Wake Forest, where she participated in the cause of racial equality and was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa. Mason writes breezily of her life before the polio, when she was a carefree, competitive, bike-riding girl in Southern cotton-growing country. Eventually, her mother slipped into dementia, sometimes lashing out violently, but Mason maintains a wonderful writerly detachment from her material, turning her remarkable life into a vivid, exalted, truly humbling tale of inspiration. (July)
From the Publisher

“Mason maintains a wonderful writerly detachment from her material, turning her remarkable life into a vivid, exalted, truly humbling tale of inspiration.” —Publishers Weekly

“Fascinating, inspirational and brave, Breath is a testament to the luscious fruits of Martha Mason's writing, and a life lived fully and well.” —BookPage

“So this book…is well worth reading. It really does sum up a vision of America as absolutely reliable, decent, resourceful and kind -- just as Martha Mason and her wonderful mother managed to be during their difficult but extremely rewarding lives.” —The Washington Post

“Truly inspiring stuff.” —Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608191192
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
06/22/2010
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
8.32(w) x 5.66(h) x 0.98(d)

Meet the Author

Martha Mason, who is believed to have lived longer in an iron lung than any other person, resided in her family home in Lattimore, N.C., attended by three faithful assistants. She died in May 2009.

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Breath: A Lifetime in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung: A Memoir 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
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She has enormous intellect, a warm spirit and wit that draws people to her, and a robust life force that allows her to greet each new day with anticipation. This despite being confined to an iron lung since age 11, in 1948. For the first 45 years of that confinement, her mother was Martha's gentle and upbeat surrogate for movement, even transcribing Martha's words for her college homework and essays. In 1993, Alzheimer's stole her mother's abilities and gentle personality. Martha now at age 55 had an even bigger challenge. "I had always been taken care of like an orchid in a greenhouse." She had to learn everything about how to run a household and to care for her mother. Friends induced her to try a voice-activated computer. A State agency helped with the financing. She could now control the telephone, research any topic, and keep in touch with her wide array of friends. She no longer required intermediaries for every transaction. From her small room and sunny yellow iron lung, she has access to the world. Her small community of Lattimore, North Carolina provides a safe haven, but her personality makes her place in this community a blessing rather than an obligation. We all have things to learn from Martha Mason.