One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing

One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing

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by Diane Ackerman
     
 

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Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
Finalist for the National Book Circle Critics Award
"Diane Ackerman's most enjoyable, intimate, and heartrending work yet."—Atul Gawande
Everyone who cherishes the gift of language will cherish Diane Ackerman's narrative masterpiece, an exquisitely written love story and medical miracle story, one that combines science,

Overview

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
Finalist for the National Book Circle Critics Award
"Diane Ackerman's most enjoyable, intimate, and heartrending work yet."—Atul Gawande
Everyone who cherishes the gift of language will cherish Diane Ackerman's narrative masterpiece, an exquisitely written love story and medical miracle story, one that combines science, inspiration, wisdom, and heart.
One day Ackerman's husband, Paul West, an exceptionally gifted wordsmith and intellectual, suffered a terrible stroke. When he regained awareness he was afflicted with aphasia—loss of language—and could utter only a single syllable: "mem." The standard therapies yielded little result but frustration. Diane soon found, however, that by harnessing their deep knowledge of each other and her scientific understanding of language and the brain she could guide Paul back to the world of words. This triumphant book is both a humane and revealing addition to the medical literature on stroke and aphasia and an exquisitely written love story: a magnificent addition to literature, period.

Editorial Reviews

Abraham Verghese
As in her previous work…Ackerman weds exquisite writing with profound insights, this time into speech and imagination…I will confess I was deeply affected by One Hundred Names for Love. Ackerman and West's is an extraordinary love story, and that a devastating stroke intervened has made it only more moving. Since we are all mortal, none of us will experience love without also experiencing loss. This book has done what no other has for me in recent years: it has renewed my faith in the redemptive power of love, the need to give and get it unstintingly, to hold nothing back, settle for nothing less, because when flesh and being and even life fall away, love endures. This book is proof.
—The New York Times
Heller McAlpin
At once sobering and encouraging, it's a tale of perseverance and accommodation, and an ode to playfulness and the brain's plasticity.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Two phrasemakers and longtime married partners had to relearn a shared, intimate conversation post-stroke as Ackerman narrates in her touching latest work. Paul West, Ackerman's 75-year-old British husband (she is 18 years younger), was a retired English professor and the author of 50-plus books, survivor of diabetes and a pacemaker, when he was struck by a massive stroke that left "a small wasteland" in his brain, especially in the key language areas. For literary minds like West and Ackerman, his inability to formulate language (reduced to repeating numbly the sounds "mem, mem, mem" in anger and confusion) was a shock to them both: "o be so godlike, and yet so fragile," his wife writes in despair. Her memoir of this terrible time, first in the hospital, then at home, records the small victories in his speech making and numerous frustrating setbacks; she even took it upon herself to make up humorous but challenging exercises for him to do, Mad Libs–style. Contrary to the bleak prognosis, West gradually made progress, while their journey makes for goofy, pun-happy reading, a little like overhearing lovers coo to each other. (Apr.)
Booklist
“Starred Review. Writing with her signature empathy, curiosity, brilliance, and mirth, Ackerman chronicles West’s heroic battle to reclaim words and mobility and her tailoring of West’s speech therapy to match his spectacular vocabulary and unique intelligence. A master of vivid metaphors and multifaceted narratives.... A gorgeously engrossing, affecting, sweetly funny, and mind-opening love story of crisis, determination, creativity, and repair.”
Joyce Carol Oates
“An intimate, richly documented, and beautiful memoir …. [A] double portrait of two remarkable people.”
Daniel Siegel
“Combine the brilliant sensibility of a poet and essayist with the compelling articulation of her mindful wisdom, and intense devotion, and voila—you have the powerful journey into the many ways love can inspire healing after profound brain damage. This gem of a book will captivate the many of us who have a relative or friend stricken by stroke—and will be of practical help to doctors and scientists as well as concerned family members. One Hundred Names for Love reminds us that healing is possible and that lives can be rebuilt from the inside out.”
Antonio Damasio
“Ackerman's best writing and best book to date.”
Library Journal
Since Ackerman is a master of both poetry and the scientific essay, she would seem well suited to telling this story. More urgently, she's an integral part of it. After suffering a severe stroke, her smart, literate husband, Paul West, could utter only the syllable mem. Traditional therapy didn't help. What did help was Ackerman's determination, as she applied her knowledge of the brain, appreciation of language, and intimate understanding of her husband to the task of healing him; together, they hammered out the path that led West back to words. A book about love and caring and the magic of communication; perfect for book clubs.
Kirkus Reviews

From prolific poet and essayist Ackerman (Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day, 2009, etc.), a sensitive memoir about how her relationship with her husband, novelist Paul West, evolved in the aftermath of his stroke.

In one tragic moment, the author watched her husband go from a man with perhaps "one of the largest working vocabularies on earth" to one who could only utter one syllable: "mem." With most of the language centers in West's brain crippled, the prognosis for improvement was grim. Undaunted, Ackerman sought standard language-relearning therapies for her husband, which met with frustratingly limited success. Then she tried more unconventional approaches that encouraged West to express himself through circumlocution and creative wordplay. The author understood that her husband needed to be "cajoled, tempted, led out, absorbed in chatting about everyday things, and surrounded by people who talked slowly to him but normally to one another." As West regained greater linguistic fluency, Ackerman encouraged him to dictate his stroke experiences to her. This project—which was later published in 2008 asThe Shadow Factory—offered her husband a way to link the person he had become with the person he had been. It also allowed a glimpse into the extraordinary inner world West had developed as a result of his illness. Soon after the stroke, he claimed to hear three distinct "voices" belonging to, respectively, a BBC announcer, a "tongue-tied aphasic" and a "language-loving scribe with American turns of phrase." Though initially doomed by doctors to a vegetative existence, West eventually recovered enough to resume his writing and lead a limited, though relatively normal life.

Ackerman's book is important for the guidance and hope it offers to stroke victims and their families, and it's also a satisfying, tender and humane celebration of love between two literary elites.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781410436481
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
04/15/2011
Edition description:
Large Print Edition
Pages:
515
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

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What People are saying about this

Joyce Carol Oates
An intimate, richly documented, and beautiful memoir …. [A] double portrait of two remarkable people.
Antonio Damasio
Ackerman's best writing and best book to date.

Meet the Author

Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the best-selling The Zookeeper's Wife and A Natural History of the Senses. She lives in Ithaca, New York.

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One Hundred Names for Love 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
ReadingRoom More than 1 year ago
Besides being a book about helping stroke victims, it was a touching love story of how a wife, who new her husband well, designed a language therapy that was based on his own personality and helped him recover from a seemingly hopeless situation after suffering a stroke. You get an intimate look into their lives and the journey of recovery. The book was heartwarming and a delight to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading and identfying with the authors experience. Her ability to put in words this experience was unique and identifiable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought it was incredibly brave to have written such a painfully honest remembrance of a hard time and a dedication to love. Few people today can try through good and bad to love the one they're with like the author did. Read this book!
PierresFamily More than 1 year ago
In "One Hundred Names for Love," Diane Ackerman managed to craft both a medical memoir, as well as a love story. She weaves the moving story of how her life and her husband's changed, as a result of his serious stroke, and how they responded together. After showing us what their life and relationship were like "before," she allows us to walk through the stages of the "after," as they walk down new paths, and create new but still loving relationship dynamics. Ackerman shares enough medical info to help us understand the effects of the stroke, and yet she doesn't get so bogged down that we lose interest. I don't want to say more; I don't want to give away any spoilers. But this is a great book, and I highly recommend it.
Birdie17 More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for a specific reason: my husband had suffered a stroke 3 months earlier and he, like Ackerman's husband, was aphasic- unable to produce words. Both Ackerman and her husband are authors and words were not only the tools of their work,but also the basis of games they would play. The review indicated that the author had helped her husband regain his voice and I bought the book mainly to see what it was she did. It became clear that this couple was unique in their love of language, immersing themselves in puzzles, arcane word games- many of the words I had never heard- and word play before his stroke. For this reason, it was difficult to compare our lives to theirs. In addition, Ackerman was able, for better or worse, to be with her husband all the time,and had, as well,the benefit of a unique, dedicated assistant to help.It wasn't the "how to" guide I was hoping for. However, it is a moving memoir written by a wife who lived through this experience, and in this we shared similar paths. She spoke of the sorrow she felt in coming to terms with knowing life would never be the same and her husband would never be the same. I understood her grief and have felt it myself. I recommend this book especially to other spouses who have had to face the enormity of change that stroke forces upon your loved one and your relationship. In the end, there is always hope. Improvement is painfully slow, but it does come, and we learn to reshape our lives and move on together.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The subject matter was interesting. The unconditional love shown in the book is to be admired. I did find it too "wordy" for me. I know the two main characters were "wordsmiths", but I got annoyed with that aspect of the book. It was as though the author was "showing off" their knowledge of words. 
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