Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Still Alice

Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher/Format:  audio 7hr, 45min; 320 page equivalent
Narrator: the author
Subject: Early Onset Alzeihmer's Disease
Setting: Cambridge Mass
Genre: fictional memoir
Source: public library

Lisa Genova has given us a thought-provoking, breath-taking novel written as the memoir of a 50 year old college professor who witnesses herself  going through periods of forgetfulness and is then diagnosed with Early Onset Familial Alzheimer's disease.(EOFAD).  As we meet her, Alice Howland is a world renowned professor of linguistic psychology at Harvard.  She begins forgetting appointments, finds herself lost in Harvard square (where she has walked everyday for over 20 years), and begins the process of  watching her mind (and therefore herself) disappear.  She devises 5 questions to ask herself every day so she can see whether she is "still Alice" and has her Blackberry set to remind her of these questions every day.

It is fascinating and gut-wrenching to watch as she deteriorates, and as she helps her family - husband, 2 daughters and a son- cope with her leaving them and with their own possibilities of carrying a genetic marker common to those with EOFAD.  Genova has done her homework and gives us a well researched indication of how the disease is diagnosed, treated, and what clinical trials are in progress.  Alice and her husband (a cancer researcher) are quite energetic in finding out everything they can about the disease and its mind-robbing progression, in looking for any possibility of a cure or at least a slowing of the ongoing loss of memory.

In this beautiful portrait, the science is never allowed to intrude on the human story: the story of a new grandmother struggling to figure out who is this beautiful young mother who is holding the beautiful baby in pink; the story of a wife struggling to help her husband and life-time lover deal with his own doubts and fears of losing her; the story of a mother struggling to accept another previously alienated daughter; the story of a son in medical school who knows first hand what is coming.  Throughout it all, we are able to experience Alice's fears, her loss of speech and thought processes, and the slow uncontrollable down-hill slide to a happy land where she knows she is 'still Alice' but doubts if others know that.

I thought it would be a depressing and discouraging story but it wasn't.  The hope for a future cure, the strides being made in the treatment, and Alice's own recognition of her condition bring the reader to an acceptance of the inevitability of life and its raw deals.  It's a book that should be read by all, not just for the information, but for the beauty of the writing.

I had the opportunity to listen to parts of this as an audio.  Normally I steer clear of books read by the author, but Ms. Genova was quite articulate and soothing. And.....even though it is fiction, and technically not a memoir, the point of view is one, and I'm feeling it is a great way to kick off my month of memoirs.


  1. I loved this book and can't wait to read the new one for 2011.

  2. I don't think I could take this one since my father and aunt had Alzheimer's, although they were in their 70s when they got it.

  3. I read this book and I loved it.
    There is Altzheimers' in my family.
    I am scared to death of this disease since my mom and her 3 siblings had it.


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