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The Light of the World

The Light of the World

5.0 7
by Elizabeth Alexander

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New York Times BestsellerFirst Lady Michelle Obama's Favorite Book of 2015A New Yorker, NPR, Boston Globe, Publisher's Weekly, Newsday, Library Journal, People


New York Times BestsellerFirst Lady Michelle Obama's Favorite Book of 2015A New Yorker, NPR, Boston Globe, Publisher's Weekly, Newsday, Library Journal, People.com, Shelf Awareness, The Root, and St. Louis Dispact Best Book of 2015 PickNew York Times Book Review Editor's ChoiceAn Amazon's Best Book of the Month, April 2015IndieBound Indie Next #1 Pick, May 2015
A deeply resonant memoir for anyone who has loved and lost, from acclaimed poet and Pulitzer Prize finalist Elizabeth Alexander.
In THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid price, Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband's death, and the solace found in caring for her two teenage sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss.
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is at once an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community. It is also a lyrical celebration of a life well-lived and a paean to the priceless gift of human companionship. For those who have loved and lost, or for anyone who cares what matters most, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is required reading.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Meghan O'Rourke
…Alexander…has written a meditative and elegiac account of meeting and losing her husband and great love…We live in a culture so preoccupied with happiness, so instrumental in its attitudes, that we forget grief is not something merely to get over, something over which we "achieve closure," but a human undertaking, a slow, sticky process of allowing our love to take another, more remote, shape. In The Light of the World, Alexander discovers a warmth that will remind some readers of the deeper truth of grieving: It is a sign of love.
Publishers Weekly
Poet and Yale African Studies professor Alexander (The Black Interior; Power and Possibility) was devastated by the death of her artist husband, who died of cardiac arrest at age 50 while exercising in the basement of their home. This memoir is an elegiac narrative of the man she loved. Artist and chef Ficre Ghebreyesus’s death was as inexplicable as the spark of love between him and Alexander after they met at a New Haven café in 1996. Ghebreyesus was a thin, fit person who nonetheless smoked; and he was not without his mysteries. For example, in the days before his death, he was obsessed with buying lottery tickets. Ghebreyesus was a gentle, peace-loving East African who had come through the Eritrean-Ethiopian civil war and was a refugee in America; he became a fashionable painter and an inventive chef at Caffe Adulis, which he ran in New Haven with his brothers. Alexander, who grew up in Washington, D.C., describes her husband’s endearing traits such as sleep-talking or singing in his native Tigrinya, and the special rituals he made when their sons reached age 13. Fashioning her mellifluous narrative around the beauty she found in Ghebreyesus, Alexander is grateful, patient, and willing to pursue a fit of magical thinking that he might just return. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"I just finished THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD by Elizabeth Alexander. It's a memoir about coping with the death of her husband, and it's magnificent."— First Lady Michelle Obama, from an interview in The Skimm"

It is both raw and exquisitely crafted, mercilessly direct and sometimes lavishly metaphorical... THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is, quite simply, a miracle."—Boston Sunday Globe"

In THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, Alexander discovers a warmth that will remind some readers of the deeper truth of grieving: It is a sign of love."—New York Times Book Review"

A deeply intimate and lyrical portrait."—Essence"

This is a beautifully written, heartrendingly candid account of the abrupt loss of her husband by the distinguished poet Elizabeth Alexander. It is a vivid, intensely rendered elegy of a remarkable man—husband, father, artist, chef. Both a memoir and a portrait of a marriage, The Light of the World is, as its title suggests, a bittersweet testament to love and the memory of love, one of the most compelling memoirs of loss that I have ever read."—Joyce Carol Oates "

Elizabeth Alexander has written a brave and beautiful book about love and loss-the deep pain that comes with such a loss, and the redemptive realization that such pain is a small price to pay for such a love."—Jeannette Walls, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Castle"

This is a gorgeous love story, written by one of America's greatest contemporary poets. Graceful in its simplicity, sweeping in scope, this book is proof that behind the boarded up windows of America's roiled marriages and ruined affairs, true love still exists, and where it does exist, it graces the world-and us-with light and hope. Elizabeth Alexander is a prose writer of deep talent and affecting skill. With ease, she peels back layer after layer to show the soft secrets of affection, the kindness, and the wide open generosity of a full hearted man and talented artist, who had more love to give in his relatively short lifetime than most of us will ever know."—James McBride, National Book Award-winning author of The Good Lord Bird and #1 New York Times bestseller The Color of Water"

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is as beautiful and moving as a gorgeous piece of music. The minute I finished it, I longed to read it again."—Anna Deavere Smith"

With tenderness and fierce poetic precision, [Alexander] realizes a simple truth: that death only deepens the richness of a life journey that must push on into the future. A delicate, existentially elegiac memoir."—Kirkus"

A radiant book of love's everlastingness and art's infinite sustenance."—Booklist (starred review)"

Love - for a marvelous man, for her sons, for the textures and pleasures of the world - shines on every page of Elizabeth Alexander's THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. This acutely observed study of what it means to lose one's beloved is a profound and beautiful contradiction: a joyous book that faces head-on the deepest grief, written with art and courage, and with limitless heart."—Mark Doty"

A moving tribute to her late husband's memory and a deeply felt meditation on loss, love and literature."—Publisher's Weekly"

She shows us how feeding your family and remembering to be aware of the small details of everyday life are the bedrocks of true connection. In this book of prose, each page is a poem."—O, The Oprah Magazine"

The Light of the World is crushing, lovely, painful, and above all powerful. It is difficult to believe that anyone who has suffered loss will remain unaffected by this marvelous book."—New York Journal of Books"

An elegy that records, in hypnotic waves of love and grief."—New York Times, T Magazine"

[A] gorgeous and intimate tribute."—Newsday"

Feel[s] authentic and true."—The Economist"

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is a celebration of life, a portrait of grief, and a lesson in the healing power of memory."—KMUW"

To call this book a riff would underplay its craft and exactitude."—Chicago Tribune"

[Elizabeth Alexander] is gifted with an incredible ability to put words to meter and create profound meaning."—The Root

Praise for Elizabeth Alexander"

Elizabeth Alexander creates intellectual magic in poem after poem."—The New York Times Book Review"

Elizabeth Alexander is a student, and dare I say, master of the craft. Her work is inspirational in a way that The Great Gatsby...is inspirational, in that it just says so much about who we are."—The Atlantic"

In narratives sweetened by the lyric pulse and pierced through by felicitous turns of irony, Alexander chronicles the world of 'black and tan.' Her poems bristle with the irresistible quality of a world seen fresh."—Rita Dove, The Washington Post"

[Alexander] seems much like Walt Whitman. She sings the American song."—Maya Angelou"

Professor Alexander is a virtuosic writer and a shrewd analyst of American letters, a polyglot who moves fluently from essay to sonnet, from free verse to drama—and in her teaching, traces equally diverse themes."—Slate"

Alexander explores tensions inherent in gender and race and expresses the ambivalence of motherhood in jazz-inflected tones."—ELLE

Library Journal
★ 06/01/2015
Alexander's marriage to her husband, Ficre, was a great love, one filled with his painting, her poetry, their cooking, and an extended family all over the world. When Ficre dies suddenly, the life she has built with him and their two sons in New Haven, CT, seems to disintegrate. This gorgeous, shimmering account from a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry is an homage to the 15-year partnership the author and her husband shared. Though Alexander's story is deeply personal, readers who have experienced love and loss will relate to it easily. VERDICT While it's impossible to avoid comparisons to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, this work is set apart by the fluid translation of Alexander's poetic ability into sentences so beautiful they beg to be reread. [See Memoir, 2/18/15; ow.ly/MBCgC.]—Erin Shea (ES)
Kirkus Reviews
A distinguished poet meditates on the early death of her beloved artist husband.A Brooklyn psychic once told Alexander (Literature and Culture/Yale Univ.; Praise Song for the Day, 2009, etc.) that she would meet a mate sooner than she realized. What the psychic did not say was that Eritrean-born Ficre Ghebreyesus would bring her a love and fulfillment that transcended anything she had ever known. Though hailing from different worlds—Alexander from Harlem and Ficre from East Africa—the two blended their lives to create a kind of trans-Atlantic "karmic balance." Alexander firmly grounded the husband who had seen war and poverty in his nation, and Ficre gave his American wife an abundance of family while connecting her to a history of black warriors who had never known slavery. Together, they built and inhabited an extraordinarily colorful, multicultural space made of books, art, food and friends. But then, 15 years into their marriage and just four days after his 50th birthday, an outwardly robust Ficre died of a heart attack. Now a widow with two teenage sons, Alexander began the lengthy, often wrenching process of mourning the man who had been the "light of [her] world." With tenderness and fierce poetic precision, Alexander recalls the hours, days, months and years after her husband's death. Grief-stricken to the point she could not produce the poetry she loved, the author marked the passage of time by observing whether she or her children still cried over his passing. At the same time, she celebrates how the love she and Ficre shared helped heal "every old wound with magic disappearing powers" so that the descendant of slaves and the survivor of a tragic war could go on with their lives. In letting go of—but never forgetting—her husband, Alexander realizes a simple truth: that death only deepens the richness of a life journey that must push on into the future. A delicate, existentially elegiac memoir.

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Grand Central Publishing
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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Meet the Author

Elizabeth Alexander is the author of six books of poetry, including American Sublime, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and two collections of essays, The Black Interior and Power and Possibility. She is the first winner of the Jackson Prize for Poetry, an Anisfield-Wolf lifetime achievement awardee, and a National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim fellow. Alexander composed and recited "Praise Song for the Day" for the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. Currently Elizabeth Alexander teaches literature and culture at Yale University, where she is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

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The Light of the World: A Memoir 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
MowgliEHEH More than 1 year ago
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander is a gem and a reflection on love. I was so drawn into her description of food, art, music, reading, singing, conversation, dancing, and poetry being intertwined with the acts of living and of loving. A quick read with profound importance. I so enjoyed the sprinkling of poetry and recipes, alongside this poet’s style of narrative.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is possibly the most beautifully crafted blend of poetry and prose, happiness and sadness, and life and death that I have ever experienced. It is an incredible book about love and loss, and I recommend that everyone reads it.
Yolee580 More than 1 year ago
In this mean old world, all of us need to be reminded what love really looks like! What a wonderful read! This book feels like the warmth of your favorite throw. Elizabeth Alexander is truly a gifted writer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A delightful memory of a life well lived. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an intimate look into the lives of a family before and after the light of the author's world, her wonderful husband dies too young, unexpectedly. She writes so well that you come to feel that you know and begin to love this man you've never met! I was sad for her loss, but felt lifted up somehow, getting to know this special family. READ THIS BOOK YOU WON'T BE SORRY
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So frustrating to see that 2 people who gave one star had nothing to do with the book, which then reduces the rating for this book. There used to be a place where I would report reviews that were inappropriate and had nothing to do with the content. Please delete those 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago