Eating Pomegranates: A Memoir of Mothers, Daughters, and the BRCA Gene

Overview

An intensely powerful and moving memoir about genetics, mortality, family, femininity, and the author’s battle with cancer

After the grief of losing her mother to cancer when Sarah Gabriel was a teenager, she had learned to appreciate "the charms of simple happiness." With a career as a journalist, a home in Oxford, England, a husband, and two young daughters, she was content. But then at age forty-four, she was diagnosed with breast cancer—the result of M18T, an inherited ...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers and in stores.

Pick Up In Store Near You

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (1) from $9.88   
  • New (1) from $9.88   
Close
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any BN.com coupons and promotions
$9.88
Seller since 2007

Feedback rating:

(23274)

Condition:

New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

New
BRAND NEW

Ships from: Avenel, NJ

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Close
Sort by
Eating Pomegranates: A Memoir of Mothers, Daughters, and the BRCA Gene

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$13.11
BN.com price

Overview

An intensely powerful and moving memoir about genetics, mortality, family, femininity, and the author’s battle with cancer

After the grief of losing her mother to cancer when Sarah Gabriel was a teenager, she had learned to appreciate "the charms of simple happiness." With a career as a journalist, a home in Oxford, England, a husband, and two young daughters, she was content. But then at age forty-four, she was diagnosed with breast cancer—the result of M18T, an inherited mutation on the BRCA1 gene that had taken the lives of her mother and countless female ancestors. Eating Pomegranates is Gabriel’s candid and incredibly intimate story of being forced to acknowledge that while you can try to overcome the loss of a parent, you can never escape your genetic legacy.

Being diagnosed with the same disease that killed her mother compelled Gabriel to write this story. In her struggle for survival, she recounts the rigors of her treatments and considers the impact of a microscopic piece of DNA on generations of her family’s dynamics. She also revisits her past in an effort to reclaim her identity and learn more about the mother who disappeared too early from her life. Beautiful and brutal, Eating Pomegranates—like the myth of Persephone and Demeter, which inspires the title—is about mothers and motherless daughters. It is about a woman so afraid of abandoning her children that she is hardly able to look at them, and about the history of breast cancer itself, from early radical surgeries to contemporary medicine.

Combining passion, humor, fierce intelligence, and clinical detail, Eating Pomegranates is an extraordinary book about an all-too-ordinary disease.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Remarkable, uncompromising and full of intelligence and insight. Gabriel has done a great service in probing social attitudes and in describing the intricate, often unspoken negotiations between the sick and the well.”

Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall

“Gabriel writes with stunning precision. Her fear and bravery is palpable.”

Robin Romm, author of The Mercy Papers

"Vivid and tense, at once raw and stylish, Eating Pomegranates brings the reader very close—for some readers unbearably close—to reality . . . devastatingly intimate."

John Carey, author of What Good Are the Arts?

“A literary triumph.” Library Journal (Starred Review)

“Gabriel shares an estimable gift for memoir and introspection in this forceful account... Raw grace is in evidence here as Gabriel lives to speak to realities to which all too many women can relate.” Booklist (Starred Review)

“Irreverent and tremendously moving… Gabriel handles heartbreaking issues frankly and with grace in this vigorously composed memoir.” Publishers Weekly

“Gabriel tells her story in a bell-clear voice... her fury at curcumstance is aching and voluminous." Kirkus Reviews

"In this fiercely emotional memoir, Gabriel blends the story of her personal medical odyssey with the history of the disease." MORE Magazine

“A very brave book. Gabriel is an astute writer with a keen eye for the telling detail." The Daily Mail (London)

"To say that Eating Pomegranates is beautifully written is to understate: it has a psalmic quality." The Independent (U.K.)

Carolyn See
…the stuff in this book is true (or carries its own truth). It's mostly what we think in the night, alone, terrified: that we are loveless, alone, unattractive and failed. It is the dark side of our lives, meticulously rendered. [Gabriel] is proud of this narrative, and rightly so. "I have done well. Really, I wouldn't have thought I had it in me." She deserves congratulations and the very, very best of luck.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
English journalist Gabriel fashions an irreverent and tremendously moving memoir about her family’s history of breast and ovarian cancers probably related to the BRCA gene mutation. Having ascertained positively in 2004 that she inherited MI8T, the mutation of the BRCA gene that is normally responsible for the suppression of tumors, the author—whose mother died of ovarian cancer at age 42—had her ovaries pre-emptively removed, shutting off harmful estrogen production and precipitating a “crash menopause.” Two years later, when Gabriel (born in 1961) discovered a lump in her left breast (and only eight months after an all-clear mammogram), she was shocked and angry, especially when doctors apprised her that mammograms detect only 23% of tumors (a suspiciously low figure). “The situation can be managed,” the doctors placated her, when six tumors were revealed and a bilateral mastectomy along with chemotherapy recommended. Telling her two children and dealing with poignant memories of her own mother’s death and her father’s suppressed grief are some of the heartbreaking issues Gabriel handles frankly and with grace in this vigorously composed memoir. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
British journalist Gabriel offers an unsparing memoir of life with breast cancer. The culprit was most likely a rogue mutation, "just the tiniest chemical alteration of one of the bases on a nucleotide on a gene known as BRCA1." Yet that mutation devastated the author's life, giving her cancer just as it had likely given the same to her mother. Gabriel tells her story in a bell-clear voice that moderates between a race of words hoping to outpace an inundation of grief-they don't-and with an unwavering eye trained at the details of the events. "Cancer for me takes place in nineteenth-century buildings," she writes, "in old stacks of brick, seamed with soot from an era of railway and coal, buildings that have borne their load, done their bit, been rattled by trains and bombs and trucks." The author charts the progress of the cancer's treatment as it affected her body, and her fury at circumstance is aching and luminous. The most pungent writing, though, concerns her two daughters-"[t]hat the sight of their golden faces is not possible for me anymore because I know I have to leave them," that they will live with a confused abandonment and long-lived sorrow like she did. The author laments that this miserable rogue mutation undercuts all matriarchal support, killing mothers and often their daughters. While the wolf circles at the door, Gabriel gathers herself for the uncertainty of the future, pushing at isolation and pulling at her family and her "compatriots in this strange country, the treacherous land after cancer."A fully flinching, glowing journey through grief, fear, loneliness, exhaustion and vulnerability.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439148204
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 2/23/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Gabriel is journalist who has written for such British publications as The Independent, The Guardian, and The Sunday Times. Married with two daughters, she lives in Oxford, England.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter OneOn the Eve

It’s March 13, 2006. I am propped up on the sofa with a pink leaflet about how to perform breast self-examination open on my chest and a glass of Chardonnay by my side. R (husband) is at the other end of the sofa, watching Manchester City play Tottenham Hotspur on the TV.

Strictly speaking, R does not like Chardonnay. He says it is a “nasty” drink, laden with chemicals that thicken his head in the morning. But he keeps me company loyally. Has done for many years.

His mother’s drinking has always been a problem for R. So he drinks to limit me to my half of the bottle, in case I go the same way. As a result, at times he has had a half-a-bottle-of-Chardonnay-a-day habit. When he goes to visit his mother, it’s worse. Whiskey. Maybe if he keeps pace with her, is true to her in the place she has to go, she won’t have to go there. Maybe she will turn about and focus the mother’s mirroring gaze on him. My darling child, how could I desert you? And for what, after all? A mess of toxins at the bottom of a bottle.

It never works. He never stops. He is the wandering knight to her Belle Dame Sans Merci. So a psyche is born.

“It says here you draw the hand in concentric circles outward to the perimeter of the breast and then bring it back again in radial lines.”

I am reading aloud to distract myself. Everything from the nasty salmon-pink color of the leaflet, a standard-issue Pantone number favored by government departments and the National Health Service (NHS), to the brutal anatomical diagrams, to the remote possibility of finding something, combines to make this task distasteful.

“What do you think it means by . . . ?” I am confused by a description of a dimpling of the skin that can occur when a lump is pulling at it from within. Examining the smooth, clean skin of my breasts, I see nothing. But maybe I just don’t know how to look?

“Mmmn?” says R, without focusing. He is concentrating hard to follow the commentary on the game, which is turned to low volume. This is our compromise. Chardonnay for football. Low volume for public breast examination. The continual trade of marital relations.

“What do you think it means . . . ?” If he had a page in front of him, in a patch of sunlight, and I were a cat, I would leap lightly across and curl myself up on it to get his attention.

But the Spurs striker has just done a header that clipped the goalpost. There is the collective gasp, a sotto voce roar, of male disappointment. A crash of testosterone up and down the country, which R, throwing himself back on the sofa in our narrow living room, echoes loyally. “Idiot!”

I turn back to the diagram with a sigh. Confronting me, in fuzzy black-and-white print, is a semicircle standing on its tip. It looks like a protractor, or a rubber drain plunger perhaps. Inside it, a tangled mass of black lines converge angrily on a knob at the end. These are the ducts. In any one of these ducts, I am told, designed to carry milk from the fatty tissue to the nipple in response to a baby’s sucking motion, a lump might form. Struggling to map this bleak geometry onto the living body, I finger my breast desultorily, unsure how to distinguish its naturally grainy texture from anything more sinister.

Writing this, I am aware that this woman has something childish about her. Dishonest, even. She should be upstairs, in front of a mirror, without a glass of wine, doing the job properly.

Embarrassing. The instinct is to move on. So instead we’ll do the opposite and move in closer. Lean over on creaking knees and take a little look. What is going on there? There is a picture of me at thirteen. The bedroom of a manse in Scotland, a little chilly, windows open onto a view of hills. I have a few drops of bright blood between my legs. I found them earlier, in the toilet, freshly staining the skin. I am frightened. I have managed to tell my mother. This was not easy. She had five children and was almost always hard-pressed.

My mother appears. She is carrying a contraption made of white pads and cotton ropes. I have no idea where she got it, whether it is one of her own or whether she had it in waiting for this moment. It looks like a kind of harness for the bottom half of the body. The packet it has emerged from is called “Dr White’s.” I remember the dirty pink and turquoise colors of the wrapping, aimed to capture femininity and hygiene and somehow soiling both. “You have your period now. You need to wear this,” says my mother. Then she turns to go. “But how?” I manage to get out, horrified, the contraption dangling from my hand. Her voice accelerates, seems to become more chilly. “The girdle goes round the waist, the pad down below. It’s perfectly simple. You’ll work it out.” And she is gone. There is supper to cook, the washing to put out, the dogs to walk, the little ones to take care of.

The next image is of a scuffed green prefab building, 1970. Primary Seven, the last year before secondary school. We are gathered to hear a lecture by head teacher Mrs. Cormack on The Facts of Life. Diagrams are pinned to the blackboard showing a man’s penis, the insinuating twin-bean shape of the ovaries connected by the pendulous U of the fallopian tubes. I have seen these shapes for years inscribed on toilet walls and bus shelters. To see them posted up on a blackboard in this way seems obscene. A calculated affront.

Mrs. Cormack explains that to make a baby, the man’s penis is inserted in the woman’s vagina. This releases something called sperm. The sperm fertilizes the egg, which is implanted in the lining of the womb and fed via the umbilical cord with nutrient-rich blood from the mother. “If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to ask. You may do so confidentially.” She invites us to write our questions anonymously on pieces of paper and put them in a basket. Can you have a baby without the man’s penis going inside the woman’s vagina? I write solemnly, folding my little note many times. At the front, she unfolds it and frowns. “This class was set up for serious matters,” she says, tossing it aside. “If anyone is going to turn it into a joke, I’ll put a stop to it immediately.”

Later, the consequences of this self-hatred, the internalized phobia of the feminine. A yo-yo pattern of binge eating and dieting. No, Mother, I will not become you however hard you try to fill me with the food that will turn me into you. I will stopper up my mouth. Your cooking, which you so poignantly love (God knows why; how can it rescue you?), is a poison that I am determined to vomit up. I shall defy you, refuse to grow belly, thighs, breasts. If you force the issue, I shall refuse to grow at all. I will not be destroyed by pregnancy after pregnancy until I am tired and broken and old beyond my years. I will not surrender myself to the tyranny of the male will. To be granted only half a place at the hearth. To be forced to offer cups of tea, meals, compliance, concession, admiration, desperation, anything to buy off the outpourings of male frustration and discontent.

And I shall not die. Suddenly and catastrophically at age forty-two. Leaving five children and a husband behind.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I am unable to examine my breasts properly. Childish? Yes, certainly. Until my dead mother walks back into the bedroom, kneels before me, and talks me tenderly through how to put on that contraption, with her eyes resting calmly on mine, her voice kind and measured, how am I to grow up? Half-made woman? Yes, certainly. I may be forty-four. I may have children now myself. But I am still waiting. Didn’t Orpheus look back for his Eurydice though it was mortal folly? Didn’t Persephone eat the pomegranate pips though it condemned her in perpetuity to six months of every year in the underworld? For how long did Hades have to press them on her before she ate? And what did those sweet seeds taste like? Did they carry the bitterness of his kingdom? Or did they taste of the great green upper world, and the tumult of her mother’s longing for her daughter? Isn’t mitosis—self-division—at the very heart of things?

“R, I think I might have found something.”

“Mmmn?”

“Really, R, I think I might have.”

“Wait a minute,” he says, attention focused on the screen, where someone is gearing up to take a penalty.

My first reaction is simple curiosity. As I examine my left breast, as instructed, with half a mind charting the strategy of the match and the emotional barometer of R’s masculinity, my finger rolls over a lump. At first it feels like nothing, or rather, like something so insignificant the mind scarcely registers it. You are crossing a level terrain. All around you the smooth and even surface stretches out. But you step off a tiny shelf. It is so shallow, there is no disruption whatsoever to your feet, which carry you evenly onward. It’s just that somewhere in the base of the spine, there is a flicker of anxiety, the uneasiness of weight being redistributed.

I put down my glass and finger the lump with fascination. It is about a centimeter in diameter and neatly spherical, with a shallow raised ridge. It feels like finding the shilling in the Christmas pudding.

“Look, I’m sure . . .”

“Mmmn? I can’t feel anything.”

R leans toward me on the sofa, touching my breast absentmindedly, while he gazes back at the screen. “No, really, I can’t feel anything.”

The Marriage of the Arnolfini, Jan Van Eyck, 1434. The Flemish merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini stands with his wife in their intricately depicted bedchamber. Their surroundings are rich: ornate brass chandelier, fur-trimmed costumes, splendid red bed with its woolen bolsters and drapes. But affluence is not what strikes us about them. They are as stark and bare as saints. The natural light from the window touches them, he with his tapering hand upraised, she with her hand laid in his, palm up, as if giving herself without constraint or condition to their union. It is easy to see why scholars thought the painting might be a form of legal witness to a marriage. Their gazes are solemn, their gestures grave. Meantime, the little dog at their feet, terrierlike, with its bright eyes and tatty fur, suggests affectionate, domestic moments (some have seen it as an icon of lust, or fidelity), while the wooden patterns on the floor to their left tell of the street beyond, muddy and turbulent, full of trade and competition.

But in this room, now, there is stillness. What is meant by the merchant’s upraised hand? What is meant by the woman’s inclined head, face plump with shadow, the tenderly gathered folds of green velvet at her belly? And what is meant by the spectator, reflected in miniature in the convex mirror behind them? Is he a witness to the ceremony, as some have inferred?

This is northern light, the painter seems to tell us. Not so much fleeting as scarcely emergent. Much of the room is already in shadow. And these two, blessed by it at the height of their union when everything is full of promise—from the pendulous red bolsters suspended from the bed, to her swollen belly; from his mysterious gesture of command, to her subtle half-screened smile—are already in the act of vanishing.

Now, in an inversion of the painting, I take R’s hands, which I have always loved, which are not tapering like the merchant’s but have a masculine blunting at the tips and are dusted with hair at the knuckles, and place them carefully at the site of the lump.

“Oh, yes.” And in his voice I hear the mirror of my own curiosity. Not fear. Just a detached kind of wonder.

“Maybe I should tell them tomorrow?”

“You think?” he asks uncertainly.

Tomorrow we are due to report to the Cancer Genetics Clinic of the Royal Marsden hospital in London, where I will have a routine annual check for breast cancer. I have inherited M18T, a mutation on the BRCA1 gene, a gene known to be involved in the body’s suppression of tumors. We don’t yet know for certain whether M18T is harmful, or “deleterious.” Only a hundred or so of the many mutations that can crop up on the long and complex BRCA1 gene adversely affect its function. But if M18T is one of them, then I have a very high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer at a relatively young age. At present, the head of the Cancer Genetics Clinic at the Marsden has described M18T as, technically, “of uncertain clinical significance.” But it’s not looking good. There’s my own mother, who died of ovarian cancer at age forty-two; her mother, who also died of ovarian cancer; and a cousin in my generation who developed breast cancer at the same age also of forty-two.

You might have thought that all this would make me particularly careful in my breast examinations. But no. It doesn’t seem to work like that. If I think of my mother and her premature death, I become a little breathless. At forty-four, I already have the sense of living on borrowed time. But I had a mammogram eight months ago that pronounced me clear of cancer. And in general, the new knowledge that medicine has offered does not always tend to make me more careful. What it actually makes me, in respect of my own risk of contracting breast cancer, is running scared. And that is something different.

“I think I should probably tell them tomorrow, shouldn’t I?” I repeat.

“No,” says R, more decisively. “I really don’t think they’re for bothering with that. If you’re worried about it, you should take it to the GP.”

Suddenly, I’m angry. More than angry. So furious that I can hardly get my words out.

“Well, what are they for exactly? This so-called cancer genetics clinic. At the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital. Which is supposed to help me not to get cancer. Which otherwise I am pretty certain to get. When my mother died of ovarian cancer at forty-two. When a cousin had breast cancer at the same age. When I have been told I have an eighty-five percent chance of getting breast cancer myself, if you remember. What exactly are they for, R, if not for bothering?”

Poor R blinks in the sudden blaze, while the screen erupts with a roar in the background.

“Well, tell them, then,” he says mildly. “If you think it’s that important.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. For taking my life so seriously.”

And I have completed the circle. It is he who does not care about my life, who prevaricates, who dandles this possibility of disaster before us and tosses it away like a trinket from the pram. I roll up my sleeves for a fight. I am energized, in good shape, my enemy before me. With hindsight, I see the pair of us with tenderness, like Miranda and Ferdinand in The Tempest, bent over a chessboard at the edge of the sea. We are playing at dread. Soon the storm will pick us up, whirl us about until we have lost sight of each other in the dark and our fingers cannot meet, tearing our proud puerility to shreds.

© 2010 Sarah Gabriel

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)