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Where Is the Mango Princess?: A Journey Back from Brain Injury

Where Is the Mango Princess?: A Journey Back from Brain Injury

5.0 11
by Cathy Crimmins

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Humorist Cathy Crimmins has written a deeply personal, wrenching, and often hilarious account of the effects of traumatic brain injury, not only on the victim, in this case her husband, but on the family.

When her husband Alan is injured in a speedboat accident, Cathy Crimmins reluctantly assumes the role of caregiver and learns to cope with the person he has


Humorist Cathy Crimmins has written a deeply personal, wrenching, and often hilarious account of the effects of traumatic brain injury, not only on the victim, in this case her husband, but on the family.

When her husband Alan is injured in a speedboat accident, Cathy Crimmins reluctantly assumes the role of caregiver and learns to cope with the person he has become. No longer the man who loved obscure Japanese cinema and wry humor, Crimmins' husband has emerged from the accident a childlike and unpredictable replica of his former self with a short attention span and a penchant for inane cartoons. Where Is the Mango Princess? is a breathtaking account that explores the very nature of personality-and the complexities of the heart.

Outstanding Book Award Winner from the American Society of Journalists and Authors

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[S]imply amazing. [An] astonishing alchemical story of tragedy and recovery."
—Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies

"A portrait of family tragedy all the more poignant for mixing humor with blazing honesty."

"Transcends the subject of illness to become an inspiring meditation on the enduring nature of love."
Us Weekly

Bookseller's Report
What happens when your spouse wakes up a new person? Humor writer/ professor Cathy Crimmins confronted just that situation in 1996 when her husband Alan emerged bewildered from a head-injury induced coma. Within days, Crimmins was forced to realize that her brilliant lawyer spouse had been transformed into a perpetually mystified patient for whom the simplest speech and memory mechanics had become overwhelming. With sensitivity and good spirit, she relates how she and Alan responded to this involuntary Oliver Sacks experience. Although Where Is The Mango Princess? is life-affirming and even sometimes funny, it does not trivialize the plight of injury-victims or family caregivers. But, with such good company, one suspects that Alan's ongoing recovery will continue unabated.

Jane E. Allen
With humor, wit and an ability to explain the workings of a scrambled mind that once came up with the nonsensical question, "Where is the mango princess?" Crimmins tells how she helped nurse [her husband] back to a new life....[A] beautifully written account from a loving woman who takes to heart the marriage vows "in sickness and in health, till death do us part" and shares insights into brain damage and the mystery of personality.
Los Angeles Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although it was frightening when Crimmins's husband, Alan, an attorney, suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while on a family vacation, it was his long-term rehabilitation that proved most daunting, for brain injuries can cause significant personality changes. This chronicle of Al's injury, treatment and rehabilitation shows how perplexing and stressful traumatic brain injury can be for both victim and family. Crimmins (When My Parents Were My Age, They Were Old and Newt Gingrich's Bedtime Stories for Orphans) knows how to tell a story for maximum effect, filling this account with funny and outrageous anecdotes, raw emotion and predictable rage toward HMOs that won't fund optimal treatment. Like many TBI patients, Al became bizarrely uninhibited; Crimmins describes how he swears profusely and masturbates in public, and her worries about suddenly being married to a stranger: "I once had a husband who was doing a dissertation on Samuel Beckett, who had a thing for obscure Japanese cinema.... I can't imagine being married to a man who won't be able to discuss books or go to the theater with me." Despite Alan's extraordinarily good recovery, Crimmins muses, "I miss his dark side.... Now I wince as he chortles over mediocre cartoons... with TBI he has become what he wasn't before, a regular, uncomplicated guy." Though this story is an eye-opener on some levels, it remains essentially shallow. More information on neurological research would have been welcome, and attention to the experience of other TBI families (to which Crimmins devotes only three paragraphs) would have added the perspective that this self-centered account lacks. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A writer frankly relates the fears and frustrations she faces when her attorney husband suffers massive brain injuries in a freak boating accident while on vacation in Canada.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Vintage Books Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.56(d)

Read an Excerpt

Accidents divide things into the great Before and After.
"Even before his brain injury, Alan had a hard time remembering names," I'll say. "Since Daddy's accident, I have to work more," I tell our daughter, Kelly. The brain injury community marks time by asking how long someone has been "out of" injury, the same way bereavement counselors ask how long your loved one has been dead. Six months out, two years out, ten years out.
Out of what, exactly?
Out of the giant crevice that has been exploded into the bedrock of your life.
Here's how I see it: One day, you and your family are hiking across a long, solid plain, when out of the sky comes a blazing meteor that just happens to hit one family member on the head. The meteor creates a huge rift in the landscape, dragging the unlucky one down to the bottom of the crevice it has made. You spend the next year on a rescue mission, helping him climb to the top, but when he gets up there, you realize that he has been greatly changed by the hardship. He doesn't know a meteor has hit him. He will never know, really. He only knows that he has spent a lot of time in a dark, confusing place. He left a lot of stuff behind, the stuff he was carrying with him, down in that big hole, and it's impossible to get it all back.
How do you even get him out? Well, you and your family have to jump across the crevice first and then pull him up on the "other" side of your life. Or you have to stay on the side where you were, drag him out, and then all leap together to the other edge of the crater. It's not easy. The chasm between the old life and the new is wider than you think. You could fall into the darkness yourself, trying to jump across.
And the damned crevice is always there, the bad-luck meteor stuck down inside it. You turn your back on it and go on, across that wide plain of life, again. But along the way you have to tell the improbable story of the meteor. You have to describe the big hole in the ground and the little holes it left behind. You dream about the crevice. You dream about the time before the meteor came down without warning. And you can never again hear about anyone getting hit on the head without knowing it is the beginning of a new and bewildering journey.
"Look at what he did with that light," says my husband, Alan, studying a canvas at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's the last day of the boffo, much-publicized Cézanne exhibit. Supplied with free last-minute tickets from friends, we jump at the chance to get in under the wire, though we know the gallery will be packed. Stories about the city's Cézanne-crazed summer had reached us in airless hospital rooms, seeming more like reports from another planet than an event we could actually attend.
Alan has a long history of never going through an art exhibit just once. He circles it two or three times or more, returning to study individual paintings in detail. I've usually been cooling my heels in the gift shop for twenty minutes by the time he wanders in.
But today a weak, subdued version of Alan leans forward on a cane, gazing at Cézanne's brushstrokes as he listens to the canned narration clamped onto his head. He has no spare energy to walk around the exhibit more than once — he'll have to drink in each painting in one thirsty gulp.
Right now I don't care how long he spends in front of each painting. He can stay there all day, wearing his dorky headset and listening to the droning narrator a couple of times for each picture. I'll wait.
"He can still analyze art!" I think. A revelation, like the one only a few weeks before: "He can still read!"
The brain is an amazing organ. The three-pound blob keeps lots of great information up there, like the lyrics to the Beverly Hillbillies theme song, the sensation of your first kiss, and the digits of your childhood phone numbers. Put your brain through a windshield at seventy miles an hour or bash it with a sledgehammer, and then it's a crapshoot. You might remember something or you might not. You might not even recall who was in the room with you five minutes ago. You might not walk or talk again. You might never wake up from that coma. You might wake up and be nasty and aggressive. You might talk in jargon. You might only sing a sitcom theme song, over and over and over.
Alan's brain got run over by a speedboat.
That last sentence reads like a bad country-western song lyric, but it's true. It was a silly, horrible, stupid accident. Only months before touring the Cézanne paintings, Alan was lying in a coma in Kingston, Ontario. A Canadian government helicopter touched down on a highway near the remote lake where we were staying and rushed him to a teaching hospital. In the helicopter Alan began to have seizures and stopped breathing. By the time he was stabilized in the emergency room, doctors and nurses were telling me they didn't know what would happen to him.
"You just love me for my brain," says Alan, smiling in his new affability. I laugh every time he says it, sharp tears stinging the corners of my eyes. We used that phrase all the time when we were work-obsessed graduate students newly in love. Now Alan uses it ironically. His brain has been damaged and will never be the same. His rehabilitation counselor says that the "old" Alan died on July 1, 1996, and a new one arose, created by the rivers and lakes of bruises that coursed over his brain as he lay unconscious in the days after his injury. He is a man with different frontal lobes, and a different personality to match.
Several weeks after his accident, while still in an addled state at a rehabilitation hospital, Alan told a doctor that he felt reborn. "That's a common feeling among our brain injury patients," said Dr. Weinstein.
"I have a question, though," continued Al. "If I had to be reborn, how come I'm still forty-four years old?"

Meet the Author

Cathy Crimmins has written several humor books, and her articles have appeared in The Village Voice, Redbook, Readers’ Digest, and Glamour, among other publications. She received the Outstanding Book Award in General Nonfiction for Where is the Mango Princess? from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She taught nonfiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania. She died in 2009 at the age of 54.

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Where Is the Mango Princess? 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
iknit4fun More than 1 year ago
I found this book while looking for another book. Cathy Crimmins has a way about writing that is infectious. After I read this book I wanted to read more about her life. I was sad to see that she died in 2009. She has written another book called A Mothers Nightmare. I am reading that one now. It is also very well written.
CommentQueen More than 1 year ago
This book was very helpful to me after my husband was diagnosed with a TBI. I would highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoughly enjoyed reading this book. My husband had a severe traumatic brain injury in January, 2009. I can see the many steps that he has gone through in the book. My husband is still in residental rehab and has a long way to go. Anyone who has someone with a brain injury should read this book but not at the beginning of their way. I just read it and it was the right time for me.
Frisco93 More than 1 year ago
This book was extremely helpful for a person dealing with taking care of a loved one with a TBI. This book was recommended by a nurse at my sons rehab. and I really enjoyed it.
GertK More than 1 year ago
This well written chronological history of personal experiences of an individual who became brain injured and his family, as told by his wife, is depictive of the range of emotions and conflicts experienced after someone has a brain injury. It shows the raw human feelings, thoughts and challenges faced by people who have had their world shaken. Life as expected is turned upside down. Yet the potential for human growth and transcendence is revealed. With love, compassion, humor and persistence anything can result in revelations not uncovered in lives without trial. Anyone who knows someone with a brain injury should read this book. Anyone who works with people with brain injutries and their families should read this book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so good!! I wasn't sure if i would like this book since all other books i've read have been Harry Potter and fictional books, but this book surprised me on how hooked you get on it. Its a very good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a speech-language pathologist who has worked in rehabilitation with inpatients and outpatients recovering from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Where Is the Mango Princess? is the best book I have ever read on TBI. It is 'accessible' to most readers and details what truly happens when someone is severely head injured. Even when a person again 'looks normal' they have not, and may never, return to the person they were before. This author is able to honestly share with humor and grief the recovery process and permanent loss that occur with TBI. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a brain injured family member or friend and to every professional who works in head injury recovery. I especially recommend this novel to every 'Dr. A------' (Yes, unfortunately he works with patients in other states as well) who can wield a scapel or a laser but has not a clue nor a care about what happens when a traumatically brain injured person attempts to re-enter his 'old' life. I hope that the author is planning a follow-up to this book-- I'm interested in how her family has continued to cope and adapt with the changes and challenges with which they have been presented.