Alice Howland – Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children – sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. She has taken the route for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Medical consults reveal early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Alice’s slowly but inevitably loses memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book, or to recall information she heard just moments before. Genova’s debut shows the disease progression through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so readers feel what she feels – a slowly building terror.
Even then, more than a year earlier, there were neurons in her head, not far from her ears, that were being strangled to death, too quietly for her to hear them. Some would argue that things were going so insidiously wrong that the neurons themselves initiated events that would lead to their own destruction. Whether it was molecular murder or cellular suicide, they were unable to warn her of what was happening before they died.
Imagine being at the top of your career. You’ve just turned 50. You’re still strong. Your status in life and identity depends on a highly functioning brain. You teach brilliant minds in Harvard. You speak at local and international conferences about psychology. You conduct discussions with highly capable colleagues, researchers, doctors, and even nobel prize winners. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you’re diagnosed with an early on-set Alzheimer’s disease that will rob you to be any of those above mentioned anymore. How would you feel? What would you do? How will you cherish the remaining moments when you’re brain is still functioning? How will you spend your time?
These questions were also asked by Alice Howland when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer. She felt devastated and robbed. She panicked. All of her life, she’d been using her brain actively. This story was told in her point of view. It was a good idea by the way, because I got a peek on how a person with Alzheimer’s disease thinks. I felt her frustrations, her loss, her loneliness and even her happiness. There were some parts when I pity her but I feel proud for her because she fights her disease. She really tries very hard to remember important details. She even used post-it-notes and her blackberry to remember certain things. Her story opens the readers’ minds see as people with Alzheimer’s not the Alzheimer’s itself. it tells us how they feel. How they grasp into something familiar but was now foreign to them.
I didn’t like how John handled Alice’s situation. I really wished for him not to have accepted the position at Sloan-Kettering because he has so much years ahead of him. He should have opted for a Sabbatical leave to spend his wife’s remaining days when she can still remember things. He should have spent his time with her. I know he can’t cope up and he can’t accept the fact that his beloved wife has Alzheimer’s but he should have considered what her wife wanted to do. [I can’t help but compare him to Noah (The Notebook). How I wish that he replaced John.] He’s so selfish but I know that he loves Ali and her misses her already. He’s just weak to accept the reality. He should have met or talked with a support group.
Alice is lucky to have her children. They were really supportive. Lydia’s idea of documenting Alice’s life helped her coped up to remember past events. I’m glad that the technologies are more advanced today because we can prevent babies from accumulating a mutilated gene to prevent Alzheimer’s. I like how her children accepted the news of her illness. Although Lydia and Alice didn’t get on very well because of the path Lydia had taken, they did found a truce in the end. Lydia is so understanding, patient, and thoughtful. I love how she explains things to her mom – how they talk about her plays, about her friends especially her boyfriend, and how they share ideas. When this disease consumes a person, it should be important that s/he has a family to support her and to remind her of what s/he once was. It is important that they feel loved.
Alice’s memory may have deteriorated fast, but the memory of what she did when she was well will always be remembered. She may have Alzheimer’s, but she’s still Alice.
This is a very powerful and emotionally captivating story that will leave you with puffy eyes and bucketful of information that you can share to your friends, relatives, and colleagues. It will cause you to pause, think, and question your health. Reading this book, I have the sudden urge to go visit a neurologist and have a check-up.
Lisa Genova made this really realistic. what other Alzheimer-related books failed to explain, this book surely did it all. Thanks to her expertise. If you have Alzheimer’s or if you know anyone who might have one, you must read and share this book to them now. It will leave you wanting more. It’s a page turner and unputdownable. It will help them tremendously. Good job Lisa!