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My Foreign Cities: A Memoir

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Overview

A fresh, beautiful story of young love and its greatest challenge.
When she was just seventeen, independent and ambitious Elizabeth Scarboro fell in love with irreverent and irresistible Stephen. She knew he had cystic fibrosis, that he was expected to live only until the age of thirty or so, and that soon she’d have a choice to make. She could set out to travel, date, and lead the adventurous life she’d imagined, or she could be with Stephen, who came with an urgency of his ...

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My Foreign Cities: A Memoir

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Overview

A fresh, beautiful story of young love and its greatest challenge.
When she was just seventeen, independent and ambitious Elizabeth Scarboro fell in love with irreverent and irresistible Stephen. She knew he had cystic fibrosis, that he was expected to live only until the age of thirty or so, and that soon she’d have a choice to make. She could set out to travel, date, and lead the adventurous life she’d imagined, or she could be with Stephen, who came with an urgency of his own. In choosing him, Scarboro embraced another kind of adventure—simultaneously joyous and heartrending—staying with Stephen and building a life in the ten years they’d have together. The illness would be present in the background of their lives and then ever-more-insistently in the foreground.
Beyond the illness, though, is a breathtaking love story. In crystalline prose, Scarboro describes the pulse of her relationship with Stephen with all its illuminating quirks. Like any young couple, they agonize about career choices, attempt ill-fated road trips, bargain about whether to adopt a puppy, and host one memorably disastrous Thanksgiving. They navigate the growing pains of their twenties alongside the twists and turns of life-threatening disease; if their telephone rings at midnight, the caller might be a heartbroken friend, or the hospital offering a new set of lungs. As time goes on and trouble looms, the dangers of Stephen’s illness consume her, just as they will consume readers who feel they have come to know this extraordinary couple.Scarboro tells her story of fierce love and its limitations with humor, grace, and remarkable bravery. My Foreign Cities is a portrait of a young couple approaching mortality with reckless abandon, gleefully outrunning it for as long as they can.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Award-winning children's novelist Scarboro's first memoir encapsulates adult mature of illness and loss in the form of a coming of age love story written retrospectively The book examines the writer's first marriage to her high school sweetheart Stephen, who died in his early 30s due to complications from cystic fibrosis. Scarboro depicts the trials and tribulations of young love as an adventure, with her husband's illness as the backdrop. The book's firm focus on the young married couple gives the story a relentless power but also the slightest tunnel vision. Readers may find themselves wishing that the author had crafted deeper portraits of supporting characters such as the caring family and friends who surrounded her and Stephen. She does this poignantly when capturing the ways her elementary students handled their teacher's loss. As a portrait of the fierce power of love, and of one remarkable young man, and as chronicle of life in the face of certain death, this memorable book deserves many readers. (Apr.)
Amy Shearn - O Magazine
“Read the first page of Elizabeth Scarboro's memoir My Foreign Cities, and you're ready for the inevitable tears… More unexpected is this writer's intelligent and gripping honesty… In writing this book [Scarboro] provides certain comfort to others who know what she knows about ‘returning to the strange country I lived in now,’ the one called life.”
Catherine Chung
“This is a book that demands your whole heart: My Foreign Cities is an extraordinary memoir of a young couple's journey together in the face of devastating loss. With humor, grace, and excruciating tenderness, Scarboro dives deep into beauty and pain, joy and grief, and reminds us what a fragile, miraculous, and ferocious thing life is. An unforgettable story told with the force and conviction of love itself.”
Julie Metz
“Elizabeth Scarboro shows us what those fortunate enough to find the deepest love will do for each other. Her memoir is a moving story that will shine its warm light for anyone navigating the rough country of illness with a partner. With some personal observation of the lay of this land, I will shout out—quality medical insurance for all, in our time!”
Robin Romm
“At its heart, this beautiful memoir is a love story. And what a love story it is: convincing, clear-eyed, honest, prismatic and saturated with warmth and hard-won wisdom.”
Roger Rosenblatt
“What strikes you about Elizabeth Scarboro's My Foreign Cities is how well the author sees. Much of the time grappling with the illness of the man she loves is spent in observing him and everything around them both, as if seeing were a way of preserving. Of course, it is. And so, this book, so cleanly written, becomes a quiet lesson in how death may be confronted by an alert and embracing concentration on life.”
Alix Kates Shulman
“In this paradoxically triumphant love story, written with verve, style, and unexpected modesty, Elizabeth Scarboro reveals youth maturing before the reader's eyes. She does this by packing into one decade more experience, drama, change, and devotion than some lovers ever achieve and shows us that it's the quality, not quantity, that counts.”
Henry L. Carrigan
“In My Foreign Cities, Scarboro invites us to accompany her on every mile of her joyous, often terrifying, sad and exalted journey of love. A natural storyteller, she brings vividly to life her struggles both to protect Stephen, who has a “lightness about him,” and to keep him at her side as long as she can so that they can embrace life to its fullest. She leads us down the path where his medical condition consumes every waking minute of their lives—including a lung transplant, its results and Stephen’s eventual decline—and shares her agony, her joy, her anger and her indecision with us.”
Amy Shearn - Oprah.com
“Book of the Week. Read the first page of Elizabeth Scarboro's memoir My Foreign Cities, and you're ready for the inevitable tears… More unexpected is this writer's intelligent and gripping honesty… In writing this book [Scarboro] provides certain comfort to others who know what she knows about ‘returning to the strange country I lived in now,’ the one called life.”
Carmela Ciuraru - San Francisco Chronicle
“Uplifting. This is not just a story about the challenges of loving someone with a terminal illness; it's about recognizing those precious moments in life that Virginia Woolf once called ‘moments of being.’ It's about savoring the present, not allowing sadness to dominate and surrendering yourself to love, for better or worse…. My Foreign Cities is a story of extremes, and although its particulars may not be familiar to many readers, its lessons on savoring our days and wasting no time are truly universal.”
Library Journal
Conceived from a New York Times “Modern Love” column, this entrancing story of a woman’s marriage to Stephen, a man living with cystic fibrosis (CF), should not be written off as merely a memoir of disease. When Scarboro met her future husband at 17, she struggled to make a life for herself while faced with the challenge of loving someone with a constantly looming expiration date. While Scarboro, her husband, and CF are the three main characters, the story truly shines as the two try to navigate their twenties bouncing between the Bay Area, Boulder, and Boston during the 1990s.VERDICT This book squeezes a soul-encompassing marriage into the events of just one decade, and Scarboro manages to tell—with strength and grace—her all-too-short love story in less than 300 pages.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A poignant memoir that first appeared as a thoughtful essay in the "Modern Love" column of the New York Times. In that essay, Scarboro (Phoenix, Upside Down, 1996, etc.), a happily married mother of two, had been informed by a university that it was holding a vial of frozen sperm from her deceased first husband, Stephen--what did she want done with it? The memoir that grew out of her essay is a frank account of her love for and her young marriage to Stephen, who, having been born with cystic fibrosis, had a life expectancy of 30. He made it, but barely. Scarboro writes about the vacations, the camping out and the hiking, as well as the emergency room visits and hospital stays, the surgical procedures, the feeding tube, his addiction to painkilling drugs and her bout with depression. When Stephen had a double-lung transplant, the 30 medications needed to keep him alive required sorting and storing in a large tackle box. The effect of all the medications was dramatic and disheartening. He developed food cravings, gained 50 pounds and shopped impulsively, and his thoughts, writing and words became rambles. Stephen kept a journal during this time, as they were planning to write a book together about living with cystic fibrosis; she includes a single excerpt that records his perception of these changes. Death was hovering over their young lives, but sometimes it was pushed to the background, letting them imagine a future in which they'd live into their 80s. Scarboro's writing is marked by honesty, and although a new love appears for the young widow at the end, there's no doubt of the warmth of her love for Stephen in the years they had together.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871403384
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 4/8/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Scarboro is the author of two children’s novels and a winner of the Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize for fiction. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and two children.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014

    Amazing book

    Recently my brother in law of 25 years died of CF, after an unbelievable battle. My sister read this book after he died, & told me it was so much like her life with her husband. I read it to try & understand the two of them better for myself. It has been such a big part of the grieving process for both of us. I am so very glad to have read it. Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your life, it has made a great impact on mine.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    Because life is short...

    ...if you are looking for an adventure just follow Stephen off the ledge and into the water...characters you'll smile with, get angry at and cry with...it is a good tale for living a full life.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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