Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyThis searching, poignant account of a woman's descent into Alzheimer's disease and her son's debilitating existential fear and guilt is a cri de coeur that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. While the subject has been treated before, Ignatieff ( Aysa ) brings to it highly honed powers of observation and a philosophic turn of mind. The title refers to ``the dark starbursts of scar tissue'' that indicate a brain being destroyed. Haunted by the genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's in his mother's family, the narrator describes each harrowing stage of her illness, meanwhile speculating about the loss of selfhood when language and memory are obliterated. There is irony in his insight that ``we have just enough knowledge to know our fate but not enough to do anything to avert it.'' The ramifications of the mother's decline destroy the family: the narrator ascribes his father's fatal heart attack, the demise of his own marriage, a break with his brother and his months of crippling depression as inescapable consequences. At times, one becomes impatient with the narrator's self-destructive behavior, his utter despair and his emotional estrangement from his wife and children. Though the prose is carefully restrained, as the book reaches its climax there is a tinge of melodrama and excess that does, however, accurately convey the narrator's conviction that he cannot escape his mother's fate. (Sept.)
Library JournalIn this fictionalized account of a mother's death from Alzheimer's disease told from the perspective of a son, Ignatieff (Asya, LJ 9/15/91) examines the relationships between life, consciousness, disease, and death. Father was a Russian migr and soil chemist, Mother was a painter with a family history of the disease, and their two sons have grown up to become a neurological researcher and a philosophy professor. It is the philosopher who tells the story, dipping into childhood memories as he recounts embarrassing and excrutiating details of his mother's decline and death. The philosopher probes unceasingly to comprehend his mother's degree of understanding as her memory and sense of self shrink, admiring the abstract beauty of the brain scan that the neurologist dispassionately interprets. And it is the philosopher who finds the seeds of the same disease inside himself. This novel is both beautiful in its quiet celebration of each moment of life and almost unbearable in its exploration of questions most often unasked. This awesome piece of work should be in most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/94.]-Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Va.
- Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
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