Beauty in the Broken Places
|July 23, 2018||Posted by admin under Biography, Memoir, Non-fiction|
Written by Allison Pataki
Published by Penguin Random House Canada
Reviewed by Christine Gordon Manley
Publication date: May 2018
Reviewed posted on: July 23, 2018
I am selective in my memoir reading. When I first became aware of “memoir” as a genre, back, oh…ten, fifteen years ago…I would pick up any which one. I read memoirs about family genealogy, famous people, and regular folk batting grief, loss, illness, and other challenges. For a while, it seemed like all my reading was of other people’s real lives. And while I found many of them to be inspirational and was very glad I read them, I ended up feeling a little burnt out. For, it seems, that many memoirs focus on dark, trying, and tragic events. And kind of how you may need to take a mental health break from watching too much news, I ended up being so consumed by these stories, I turned away from memoir for many years, focusing only on fiction.
So, Beauty in the Broken Places is the first memoir I’ve read in years, and I am so grateful I decided to give it a chance! Does it detail a trying, tragic event? Yes. But there is also light in the dark, and Allison Pataki’s faith, in her husband, in the medical profession as a whole, in God, and (perhaps most importantly) in herself just served to drive home the point of how blessed I am.
While en route to a Hawaiian holiday with his five-month-pregnant wife, Dr. David Levy (Allison’s husband) suffered a massive stroke. This happened out-of-the-blue (as most strokes do, but even moreso in David’s case as he was a healthy, physically active thirty-year-old—much younger than what you would expect for a stroke victim), while mid-air, causing the plane to make an emergency landing. The couple never made it to Hawaii.
The book details David’s long recovery, from not knowing whether he would make it to how they’ve adapted their day-to-day lives now (this is not a spoiler as the book jacket tells you the Epilogue is written by Dr. David Levy). In between this journey, Allison chronicles the couple’s history together, from how/where they met, to their time spent dating as college students, to navigating separately stressful and intense careers (medicine for David; journalism and then as a novelist for Allison), to getting married and starting a family.
Along the way, Allison is genuine and honest about that time in her life. She shares her worst fears, her frustrations, and her anger. But she also shares her love, her strength, and her faith.
Almost losing your husband while being five months pregnant, and then having to care for both a newborn and your partner can only be summed up in one word: Hard. Allison had to pull from all her sources of strength to just make it through herself, since she had two people depending on her for care.
This is a memoir about David’s recovery, yes, but it’s also one of a woman navigating through the most challenging time in her life. And of how she managed to do that. One of the lines that stayed with me was when Allison was reflecting on some people’s reactions during this time. She often heard “I don’t know how you do it,” and she responded along the lines of “I don’t have a choice.” I’ve gone through challenging times myself (nowhere near the same level as Allison, but challenging nonetheless) and I’ve had well-meaning people say this line to me. What Allison says is true: There is no choice. There is no giving up. There is only how you manage. How you cope. And, despite a few understandable moments of frustration and anger, Allison, for the most part, chose to cope with love and faith.
Her faith is a big part of this book, and while I do not identify myself as traditionally Christian, I do consider myself a spiritual person, and I took to heart the lessons Allison shared in this book. About trust and gratitude and just having faith in yourself.
Allison’s story was a moving one to read, but her words were beautiful as well. She’s an experienced writer, having authored three novels before and during the time of her husband’s stroke, so she’s able to captivate in words feelings and experiences in a way not always seen in a memoir. (I’m now actually inspired to look up Allison’s fictional works.)
I did not feel sad reading this. On the contrary, I felt hope. And I believe that is the message Allison set out to share when she started this book. Her story started with an unexpected tragedy, but that doesn’t mean it has to define her.
I will take that lesson with me, as I (undoubtedly) face more challenges in my life (as we all do). Whatever happens, it doesn’t have to define you. Even if most of us (we hope!) will not find ourselves in the same situation that Allison and David did, we can still take from their story perspective on not just coping, but coping with strength.
For more information about this book, visit the publisher’s website here.