Breathless: An Asthma Journal

Breathless: An Asthma Journal

by Louise A. DeSalvo
     
 

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For acclaimed memoirist and biographer Louise DeSalvo, who was diagnosed several years ago with asthma, any moment can become a terrifying struggle for air. Here, she applies her searching mind and scholarship to untangle the connections between physical illness, childhood trauma, and the creative mind. 168 pp.

Overview

For acclaimed memoirist and biographer Louise DeSalvo, who was diagnosed several years ago with asthma, any moment can become a terrifying struggle for air. Here, she applies her searching mind and scholarship to untangle the connections between physical illness, childhood trauma, and the creative mind. 168 pp.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Afflicting more than ten million Americans each year, asthma is a disorder characterized by repeated episodes of chest constriction, difficulty exhaling, coughing, and (sometimes) wheezing, triggered by any number of factors ranging from allergens to cold air to emotional stress. Hypervigilance about environmental triggers is draining physically and emotionally but necessary to prevent additional attacks. Like Tim Brookes in Catching My Breath (LJ 7/94), DeSalvo (Vertigo: A Memoir, LJ 7/96) charts her personal journey through the chronic chameleon that is asthma as she searches for the root causes of her "breathlessness." Her emphasis is less on therapeutics (although there is a fascinating brief on the historical treatments for asthma) than on the effect a chronic illness has on one's productive capacity. She examines the mind-body connection in her own lifeincluding childhood sexual abuse and a sister's suicide by hangingand in those of other asthmatic writers such as Marcel Proust and John Updike. Recommended for health and holistics collections.Anne C. Tomlin, Auburn Memorial Hosp. Lib., N.Y.
Booknews
An account of the author's experience with adult-onset asthma, exploring the condition as an illness and as a response to environmental crisis and childhood trauma. She looks at the lives of asthmatic writers, and discusses asthma's effects on self-image and artistic creation. No index. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A deeply personal exploration of asthma that encompasses not simply the author's subjective experience, but its impact on some notable literary personages.

There is a semblance of a journal here, but structure is not literary biographer DeSalvo's (English/Hunter Coll.; Conceived with Malice, 1994, etc.) concern. The occasional dated entries indicate that in late 1991 she became ill and in mid-1992 was finally diagnosed as having asthma, a treatable but chronic condition that drastically altered how she lives and works. Probably only a working writer would seek to understand asthma by consulting the Oxford English Dictionary or diagramming the subtly different sentences "I have asthma" and "I am a person with asthma." And perhaps only a literary critic with asthma would feel compelled to read every book she can find by an asthmatic author or about an asthmatic character. The connection she feels with John Updike, Virginia Woolf, Isabel Allende, Elizabeth Bishop, and most of all Marcel Proust is evident as she studies how these writers interpreted and treated asthma and how it affected them. She discovers what she calls "an asthma underground," finding stories about asthma and breathing difficulties everywhere: on the radio, in newspapers, magazines, and journals. What she concludes from these accounts, and from her own personal history, is that asthma is probably a manifestation of post-traumatic stress and that it is caused by terror, trauma, and abuse. Somewhere in the asthmatic's background, she asserts, is an emotional, physical, sexual, or environmental crisis, during which the individual was too frightened to breathe. No matter that this argument is not persuasive, DeSalvo succeeds in making the asthmatic attack—and the fear of one—palpable.

When a scholarly critic and biographer selects as her topic of study her own asthma, one can expect something other than a run-of-the-mill report. DeSalvo delivers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807070963
Publisher:
Beacon
Publication date:
04/30/1997
Pages:
176
Product dimensions:
5.66(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.81(d)

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Nancy Mairs
Breathless offers a stimulating scrutiny of often overlooked connections between bodily experience and childhood trauma, literary representations of illness, and social policy.

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