In the Body of the World

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Overview

From the bestselling author of The Vagina Monologues and one of Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Changed the World, a visionary memoir of separation and connection—to the body, the self, and the world

Playwright, author, and activist Eve Ensler has devoted her life to the female body—how to talk about it, how to protect and value it. Yet she spent much of her life disassociated from her own body—a disconnection brought on by her father’s sexual abuse and her mother’s remoteness. ...

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In the Body of the World: A Memoir of Cancer and Connection

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Overview

From the bestselling author of The Vagina Monologues and one of Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Changed the World, a visionary memoir of separation and connection—to the body, the self, and the world

Playwright, author, and activist Eve Ensler has devoted her life to the female body—how to talk about it, how to protect and value it. Yet she spent much of her life disassociated from her own body—a disconnection brought on by her father’s sexual abuse and her mother’s remoteness. “Because I did not, could not inhabit my body or the Earth,” she writes, “I could not feel or know their pain.”

But Ensler is shocked out of her distance. While working in the Congo, she is shattered to encounter the horrific rape and violence inflicted on the women there. Soon after, she is diagnosed with uterine cancer, and through months of harrowing treatment, she is forced to become first and foremost a body—pricked, punctured, cut, scanned. It is then that all distance is erased. As she connects her own illness to the devastation of the earth, her life force to the resilience of humanity, she is finally, fully—and gratefully—joined to the body of the world.

Unflinching, generous, and inspiring, Ensler calls on us all to embody our connection to and responsibility for the world.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Rosemary Bray McNatt
Those who know Ensler's personal and professional struggles, even those critical of her, will be eager to read this new memoir; those unfamiliar with her should get ready for quite a ride. In this raw and powerful story, she gathers up the fragments of an accomplished yet damaged life. Framed as a series of short chapters called "scans," mimicking the technology that first revealed the cancerous tumor in her uterus, In the Body of the World isn't always elegantly phrased, but it is unforgettable.
Publishers Weekly
In this extraordinarily riveting, graphic story of survival, Ensler, an accomplished playwright (The Vagina Monologues) and activist in international groups such as V-Day, which works to end violence against women, depicts her shattering battle with uterine cancer. Having felt estranged from her body for a lifetime, and been molested as a girl by her father and enthralled by alcohol and promiscuity early on, Ensler as a playwright was seized with a political awareness of the dire violence committed against women across the globe. At the age of 57, she was blindsided when she discovered that her own health emergency mimicked the ones that women were enduring in the developing countries she had visited: "the cancer of cruelty, the cancer of greed... the cancer of buried trauma." Her narrative, she writes, is like a CAT scan, "a roving examination—capturing images," recording in minute, raw detail the ordeals she underwent over seven months. These include her crazed, "hysterical" response to the diagnosis and her treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., as well as extensive surgery, chemo, radiation, and caring by a "posse" of companions in misery, like her estranged sister, Lu, and far-flung friends such as Mama C, the head of the City of Joy women's center in the Congo. Her anatomy of the invasion of women's bodies is often difficult to read; the lesson she learns is that in order to heal, she has to submit her body to a renewed source of love and joy. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Owing to sexual abuse as a child, the author of The Vagina Monologues initially felt no connection to her own body, which changed when she witnessed mass rape in the Congo.
Kirkus Reviews
A feminist playwright and activist's riveting account of how uterine cancer helped her "find [her] way back to [her] body, and to the Earth." Incest survivor Ensler had dedicated her life to understanding the experience of living in a female body since she had become so disconnected from her own. In 2007, her professional obsessions eventually led her to the Congo, where "the systematic rape, torture, and destruction of women and girls" in the name of securing mineral wealth was a horrifyingly banal reality. Ensler began working with Congolese women to create a female-centered safe space called City of Joy, only to discover in 2010 that she had uterine cancer. The diagnosis awakened her to the body that until then had only been "an abstraction." Suddenly, doctors were cutting into her flesh to fill it with cancer-fighting drugs and then drain it with bags and catheters. Her body, like the body of the Congolese women she was trying to help, had become a host not just to a literal disease, but also to the metaphoric cancers of cruelty, greed, stress and trauma. Loving friendships with women saved her spirit, while chemotherapy, in tandem with surgery that left her temporarily incontinent, saved her life. In the meantime, the physical transformation brought about by the disease caused Ensler to experience a heightened sense of living and being in a world she had once tried to flee through alcohol, drugs, sex and overwork. Reborn through suffering, she issues a clarion call to women to turn "victimhood to fire…self-hatred to action [and]…self-obsession to service." Fierce, frank, raw and profoundly moving.
From the Publisher
“Ensler reads with the rhythms and cadence of an angry, passionate poet, intense and fully aware of the devastating iron of that diagnosis…Raw, unrelenting, no-holds-barred listening.” – AudioFile Magazine, Earphones Award winner

“Ensler’s narration in this audio edition is rich and personal as the text itself.” – Publishers Weekly

 

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"Astonishing"

Mary Oliver

"A masterpiece. Ensler has accomplished the impossible: weaving together huge, bold, world-changing ideas with beautiful writing, amazing metaphors, and original structure. Truly one of the most courageous and original works of our time."

Naomi Klein

"This book is a ride, a river ride through rapids and depths and shallows, dried-up eddies, whirlpools and torrents, crystal-clear pools and the vast ocean at the end.  What a thrill and what a spear through the heart.  I am astounded by the honesty and clarity of each word."

Elizabeth Lesser

"Ensler has written a profound and vulnerable book, full of tenderness and strength. I was amazed by the clarity of her vision and the power of her message about the body and self. This book isn’t meant only for patients; it is meant for anyone whose life has intersected with illness—in short, for all of us."

—Siddhartha Mukherjee

"I dare anyone to read In the Body of the World without crying, without crying out, without getting up and rising to this beautiful broken world with awe and gratitude. There is no pity here, only the raw force of courage in the face of fear and violence, and the healing grace of honesty."

Terry Tempest Williams

"Eve Ensler incarnates the pain of the women in the Congo, victims of rape and torture; and of the Earth, victim of so much desecration. Her heart and body are broken, her anger is like fire, and the passion of her writing rattles your soul. This is true literature and true activism."

—Isabel Allende

"Eve Ensler’s memoir is not only wild and raw and incredibly important, it’s also that rarest of achievements—a compulsively readable, stunningly rendered work of art that delivers hope and truth, challenge and solace, sometimes simultaneously."

—Alexandra Fuller

"A riveting story of survival."

—Publishers Weekly

"Fierce, frank, raw and profoundly moving."

—Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805095180
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 263,942
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler is an internationally bestselling author and an award-winning playwright whose works include The Vagina Monologues, The Good Body, Insecure at Last, and I Am an Emotional Creature, since adapted for the stage as Emotional Creature. She is the founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls, which has raised more than $90 million for local groups and activists, and inspired the global action One Billion Rising. Ensler lives in Paris and New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Divided

A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother. Or miss a place or know something called home. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life.

I have been exiled from my body. I was ejected at a very young age and I got lost. I did not have a baby. I have been afraid of trees. I have felt the Earth as my enemy. I did not live in the forests. I lived in the concrete city where I could not see the sky or sunset or stars. I moved at the pace of engines and it was faster than my own breath. I became a stranger to myself and to the rhythms of the Earth. I aggrandized my alien identity and wore black and felt superior. My body was a burden. I saw it as something that unfortunately had to be maintained. I had little patience for its needs.

The absence of a body against my body made attachment abstract. Made my own body dislocated and unable to rest or settle. A body pressed against your body is the beginning of nest. I grew up not in a home but in a kind of free fall of anger and violence that led to a life of constant movement, of leaving and falling. It is why at one point I couldn’t stop drinking and fucking. Why I needed people to touch me all the time. It had less to do with sex than location. When you press against me, or put yourself inside me. When you hold me down or lift me up, when you lie on top of me and I can feel your weight, I exist. I am here.

For years I have been trying to find my way back to my body, and to the Earth. I guess you could say it has been a preoccupation. Although I have felt pleasure in both the Earth and my body, it has been more as a visitor than as an inhabitant. I have tried various routes to get back. Promiscuity, anorexia, performance art. I have spent time by the Adriatic and in the green Vermont mountains, but always I have felt estranged, just as I was estranged from my own mother. I was in awe of her beauty but could not find my way in. Her breasts were not the breasts that fed me. Everyone admired my mother in her tight tops and leggings, with her hair in a French twist, as she drove through our small rich town in her yellow convertible. One gawked at my mother. One desired my mother. And so I gawked and desired the Earth and my mother, and I despised my own body, which was not her body. My body that I had been forced to evacuate when my father invaded and then violated me. And so I lived as a breathless, rapacious machine programmed for striving and accomplishment. Because I did not, could not, inhabit my body or the Earth, I could not feel or know their pain. I could not intuit their unwillingness or refusals, and I most certainly never knew the boundaries of enough. I was driven. I called it working hard, being busy, on top of it, making things happen. But in fact, I could not stop. Stopping would mean experiencing separation, loss, tumbling into a suicidal dislocation.

As I had no reference point for my body, I began to ask other women about their bodies, in particular their vaginas (as I sensed vaginas were important). This led me to writing The Vagina Monologues, which then led me to talking incessantly and obsessively about vaginas. I did this in front of many strangers. As a result of me talking so much about vaginas, women started telling me stories about their bodies. I crisscrossed the Earth in planes, trains, and jeeps. I was hungry for the stories of other women who had experienced violence and suffering. These women and girls had also become exiled from their bodies and they, too, were desperate for a way home. I went to over sixty countries. I heard about women being molested in their beds, flogged in their burqas, acid-burned in their kitchens, left for dead in parking lots. I went to Jalalabad, Sarajevo, Alabama, Port-au-Prince, Peshawar, Pristina. I spent time in refugee camps, in burned-out buildings and backyards, in dark rooms where women whispered their stories by flashlight. Women showed me their ankle lashes and melted faces, the scars on their bodies from knives and burning cigarettes. Some could no longer walk or have sex. Some became quiet and disappeared. Others became driven machines like me.

Then I went somewhere else. I went outside what I thought I knew. I went to the Congo and I heard stories that shattered all the other stories. In 2007 I landed in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. I heard stories that got inside my body. I heard about a little girl who couldn’t stop peeing on herself because huge men had shoved themselves inside her. I heard about an eighty-year-old woman whose legs were broken and torn out of their sockets when the soldiers pulled them over her head and raped her. There were thousands of these stories. The stories saturated my cells and nerves. I stopped sleeping. All the stories began to bleed together. The raping of the Earth. The pillaging of minerals. The destruction of vaginas. They were not separate from each other or from me.

In the Congo there has been a war raging for almost thirteen years. Nearly eight million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped and tortured. It is an economic war fought over minerals that belong to the Congolese but are pillaged by the world. There are local and foreign militias from Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. They enter villages and they murder. They rape wives in front of their husbands. They force the husbands and sons to rape their daughters and sisters. They shame and destroy families and take over the villages and the mines. The minerals are abundant in the Congo—tin, copper, gold, and coltain, which are used in our iPhones and PlayStations and computers.

Of course by the time I got to the Congo, I had witnessed the epidemic of violence toward women that scoured the planet, but the Congo was where I witnessed the end of the body, the end of humanity, the end of the world. Femicide, the systematic rape, torture, and destruction of women and girls, was being employed as a military/corporate tactic to secure minerals. Thousands and thousands of women were not only exiled from their bodies, but their bodies and the functions and futures of their bodies were rendered obsolete: wombs and vaginas permanently destroyed.

The Congo and the individual horror stories of her women consumed me. Here I began to see the future—a monstrous vision of global disassociation and greed that not only allowed but encouraged the eradication of the female species in pursuit of minerals and wealth. But I found something else here as well. Inside these stories of unspeakable violence, inside the women of the Congo, was a determination and a life force I had never witnessed. There was grace and gratitude, fierceness and readiness. Inside this world of atrocities and horror was a red-hot energy on the verge of being born. The women had hunger and dreams, demands and a vision. They conceived of a place, a concept, called City of Joy. It would be their sanctuary. It would be a place of safety, of healing, of gathering strength, of coming together, of releasing their pain and trauma. A place where they would declare their joy and power. A place where they would rise as leaders. I, along with my team and the board at V-Day, were committed to finding the resources and energy to help them build it. We would work with UNICEF to do the construction and then, after V-Day, would find the way to support it. The process of building was arduous and seemingly impossible—delayed by rain and lack of roads and electricity, corrupt building managers, poor oversight by UNICEF, and rising prices. We were scheduled to open in May, but on March 17, 2010, they discovered a huge tumor in my uterus.

Cancer threw me through the window of my disassociation into the center of my body’s crisis. The Congo threw me deep into the crisis of the world, and these two experiences merged as I faced the disease and what I felt was the beginning of the end.

Suddenly the cancer in me was the cancer that is everywhere. The cancer of cruelty, the cancer of greed, the cancer that gets inside people who live downstream from chemical plants, the cancer inside the lungs of coal miners. The cancer from the stress of not achieving enough, the cancer of buried trauma. The cancer that lives in caged chickens and oil-drenched fish. The cancer of carelessness. The cancer in fast-paced must-make-it-have-it-smoke-it-own-it formaldehydeasbestospesticideshairdyecigarettescellphonesnow. My body was no longer an abstraction. There were men cutting into it and tubes coming out of it and bags and catheters draining it and needles bruising it and making it bleed. I was blood and poop and pee and puss. I was burning and nauseous and feverish and weak. I was of the body, in the body. I was body. Body. Body. Body. Cancer, a disease of pathologically dividing cells, burned away the walls of my separateness and landed me in my body, just as the Congo landed me in the body of the world.

Cancer was an alchemist, an agent of change. Don’t get me wrong. I am no apologist for cancer. I am fully aware of the agony of this disease. I appreciate every medical advance that has enabled me to be alive right now. I wake up every day and run my hand over my torso-length scar and am in awe that I had doctors and surgeons who were able to remove the disease from my body. I am humbled that I got to live where there are CAT scan machines and chemotherapy and that I had the money to pay for them through insurance. Absolutely none of these things are givens for most people in the world. I am particularly grateful for the women of the Congo whose strength, beauty, and joy in the midst of horror insisted I rise above my self-pity. I know their ongoing prayers also saved my life. I am in awe that it happens to be 2012, not twenty years ago even. I am gratefully aware that at just about any other point in history I would have been dead at fifty-seven.

In his book, The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee says, “Science is often described as an interactive and cumulative process, a puzzle solved piece by piece with each piece contributing a few hazy pixels to a much larger picture.” Science, then, is not unlike a CAT scan, a three-dimensional magnetic electronic beam that captures images as it rotates around the body. Each image is separate but somehow the machine makes them seem like one.

This book is like a CAT scan—a roving examination—capturing images, experiences, ideas, and memories, all of which began in my body. Scanning is somehow the only way I could tell this story. Being cut open, catheterized, chemofied, drugged, pricked, punctured, probed, and ported made a traditional narrative impossible. Once you are diagnosed with cancer, time changes. It both speeds up insanely and stops altogether. It all happened fast. Seven months. Impressions. Scenes. Light beams. Scans.

Copyright © 2013 by Eve Ensler

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    Don't recommend

    Having worked in healthcare for 34 years I am well aware of what a human undergoes. Some of the worst procedures are hysterically described and deeply depersonalizing. However, Ms. Ensler makes one feel that she was the only who could describe the atrocities she was faced with. I am very glad that she is well but the short account of her endurance of her treatment process was inelegant and not helpful to someone who recognizes her name and is hoping for some emotional help as well as general medical knowledge of what she underwent. She could have written in a much quieter voice and still have told her story. She needs to remember that people need hope and a gentle voice - reading this book would make one wish for immediate death.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2013

    Beautiful book and beautiful woman!!

    Beautiful book and beautiful woman!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Amazing and inspirational. Eve Ensler is a brave, honest and gif

    Amazing and inspirational. Eve Ensler is a brave, honest and gifted writer. She tells the story of her ordeal with cancer in such an inspiring way I was happy to be able to recommend this book to a friend fighting cancer. Thank you Eve for all you are doing to help women around the world and especially in the Congo. You are a true role model for all of us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    For someone who writes in excrutiating detail about other people

    For someone who writes in excrutiating detail about other people's physical suffering, she comes across as shallow about her own emotional  suffering.  I admit that I am biased in that I know and love some of the people referenced in this book and have also lived with loved ones who lived with, and died while, suffering the monstrous indignities of cancer and the present day treatment. I deeply appreciate how this book will help prepare some individuals with the gruesomeness of dealing with cancer and the treatments that are currently available to us. Taken in its totality, however, and as admirable as her overall body of work people should be, both written and in action might be, I find this particular work, as a memoir, to be narcissistic and shallow. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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