Geography of the Heart: A Memoir

Geography of the Heart: A Memoir

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by Fenton Johnson

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From the author of the award-winning novels Crossing The River and Scissors, Paper, Rock comes a powerful book about the transformative power of love. Fenton Johnson recounts the history of "how I feel in love how I came to be with someone else, how he came to death and how I helped." Johnson interweaves two stories: his own upbringing as the youngest of a Kentucky


From the author of the award-winning novels Crossing The River and Scissors, Paper, Rock comes a powerful book about the transformative power of love. Fenton Johnson recounts the history of "how I feel in love how I came to be with someone else, how he came to death and how I helped." Johnson interweaves two stories: his own upbringing as the youngest of a Kentucky whiskey maker's nine children, and that of his lover LarD Rose, the only child of German Jews. survivors of the Holocaust.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Novelist Johnson (Scissors, Paper, Rock) watched his lover, San Francisco high-school teacher Larry Rose, die of AIDS in a Paris hospital in 1990 after an intense three-year relationship. Rose was HIV-positive but asymptomatic when they met, and while their lovemaking was haunted by fear of contagion, the author remains HIV-negative. Rose, the only child of German Jewish Holocaust survivors-his father, Leo, was imprisoned and beaten by the Nazis in Holland, escaped and hid for three years with broken vertebrae-had a very different background from that of Johnson, who grew up Catholic and the youngest of nine in an isolated Appalachian town in Kentucky. Johnson writes with crystal clarity of his gradual acceptance by his lover's emigrant parents, of coming out to his own widowed mother at 31, of Rose's gradual physical deterioration and of his working through grief toward emotional renewal. This is a remarkable memoir, touching, funny, searing, eloquent, beautifully alive. (May)
Library Journal
This rare and moving memoir is the story of two men who met, fell in love, lived, loved, and experienced death in one of the worst epidemics of our time. Novelist Fenton (Crossing the River, LJ 7/89); writes masterfully about his deceased lover, Larry Rose. They are opposites in many ways: Catholic and Jew, Southerner and Californian, descendant of Appalachian folk and descendant of Holocaust survivors, HIV negative and HIV positive. Yet they know they are right for each other and, perhaps more importantly, right for the times. Johnson not only describes their three years together but also their prehistories: Johnson's growing up in rural Kentucky, Rose's parents hiding from Nazis under the floorboards of a house in Holland. The level of compassion, understanding, and love between these two men is a testament to how humans could and should treat each other. Rose used to say, even in the face of terrible odds, how lucky he was. Anyone who reads this work will also feel lucky for having done so. Recommended for all types of libraries.-Lee Arnold, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Charles Harmon
Although formally as old as literature itself, Johnson's story of growing up, falling in love, and enduring the beloved's death is as relevant as one's own life. It "is" his life, a memoir dominated by his relationship with Larry Rose. Larry, HIV-positive when he and Johnson became a couple, had a zest for living that, ironically, lightened his lover's approach to life. The two could not have had more different backgrounds: Fenton was the youngest in a huge rural Kentucky family; Larry, the only son of Jewish immigrants to California. Larry fell in love with Fenton almost immediately and wooed him until he gave in to their being a couple. Their life together, their frequent travels to France, their mutual acceptance of both life and death, and then Johnson's grief at his loss make wrenching yet rewarding reading, recommended to virtually all public libraries.
Greg Johnson
"GEORGRAPHY OF THE HEART abounds with love....Along with Paul Monette's Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, Johnson's book will surely stand as one of the most powerful additions to this poignant genre." -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Juliet Wittman
"REMARKABLE....a glowing, fine-grained tapestry that illuminates Johnson's life with Rose, and places their love and travails in a larger context." -- San Jose Mercury News
Bill Roorbach
"Heartbreaking...profoundly sad, yet somehow hopeful...GEORGRAPHY OF THE HEART takes the shape and sudden trajectory of a novel." -- Newsday
Kirkus Reviews
A spiritual autobiography in the form of a novelist's memoir about losing his lover to AIDS.

What can you say about a book that makes you cry on page 3? That it does so again on page 4 complicates the reviewer's job further. Nevertheless, this is not a tearjerker: Johnson's (Scissors, Paper, Rock, 1993, etc.) memoir is a moving expansion of the genre. The last of nine children in a devoutly Catholic rural Kentucky family, Johnson was initially the pursued and not the pursuer in the relationship he memorializes here. Larry Rose's background—San Francisco high school English teacher, the only child of German-Jewish Holocaust survivors—could scarcely have been more dissimilar. Johnson resists entanglement: Larry is HIV- positive, and he legitimately fears having his life taken over by responsibility for Larry's care once he develops AIDS. He also fears the pain of becoming attached to someone he will lose. What he discovers is that being in love with Larry transforms him. As Johnson writes in an extraordinary passage about ministering to Larry on a daring trip to France just days before the invalid's death: "I understood the shallowness of my fears that I might abandon Larry once he grew sick. Now I only wanted to be with him and to care for him, for in caring for him I was caring for myself. I discovered that I loved even his illness and his dying . . . because they were a part of him; there was no having him without these." The labors arising from love, Johnson learns, are not labors.

We think of memoirs as retrospective narratives of long lives. Where AIDS is involved, the time frame is very different, the intention more urgent. This profoundly moving, painfully honest book is a remarkable testament to a short life and the enduring love that emerged from it. It deserves the widest possible audience.

Product Details

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5.85(w) x 8.77(h) x 0.98(d)

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Anne Lamott
"A beautiful weave of fear and awakening, love and grifef -- brilliant, funny, sad, riveting."

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Geography Of The Heart 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ShadowFarrell More than 1 year ago
Anyone who's been frustrated searching for a soul mate will be touched by this story. Fenton Johnson's memoir is the true story of a man who's soul mate found him and taught him how to both receive love and give it in return. A modern romance, Geography of the Heart is touching, entertaining and cathartic. If you've given up on love, this book will re-open your heart. Johnson gives moving testimony to the old adage that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
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