Memory's Last Breath
In the tradition of Brain on Fire and When Breath Becomes Air, Gerda Saunders' Memory's Last Breath is an unsparing, beautifully written memoir--a true-life Still Alice that captures Saunders' experience as a fiercely intellectual person living with the knowledge that her brain is betraying her. Saunders' book is uncharted territory in the writing on dementia, a diagnosis one in nine Americans will receive. Based on the "field notes" she keeps in her journal, Memory's Last Breath is Saunders' astonishing window into a life distorted by dementia. She writes about shopping trips cut short by unintentional shoplifting, car journeys derailed when she loses her bearings, and the embarrassment of forgetting what she has just said to a room of colleagues. Coping with the complications of losing short-term memory, Saunders nonetheless embarks on a personal investigation of the brain and its mysteries, examining science and literature, and immersing herself in vivid memories of her childhood in South Africa. Written in a distinctive voice without a trace of self-pity, Memory's Last Breath is a remarkable, aphorism-free contribution to the literature of dementia--and an eye-opening personal memoir that will grip all adventurous readers.

Memory's Last Breath Details

TitleMemory's Last Breath
Author
FormatHardcover
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJun 13th, 2017
PublisherHachette Books
ISBN0316502626
ISBN-139780316502627
Number of pages288 pages
Rating
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Health, Biography, Biography Memoir, Medical

Memory's Last Breath Review

  • Cheri
    June 16, 2017
    3.5 Stars” And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life.” --Julian Barnes, The Sense of an EndingA now retired scientist, Gerda Saunders was 61 when she was diagnosed with early onset dementia, more specifically - micro-vascular disease. This memoir is her thoughts, fears, frustrations over the following years, the affect it had on her, her husband, her children, and dai 3.5 Stars” And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life.” --Julian Barnes, The Sense of an EndingA now retired scientist, Gerda Saunders was 61 when she was diagnosed with early onset dementia, more specifically - micro-vascular disease. This memoir is her thoughts, fears, frustrations over the following years, the affect it had on her, her husband, her children, and daily life. From forgetting to include “necessary” garments to struggling with minor to more major concerns. When to give up driving. When to say “no more.” As the author is a scientist, it shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that this has a more clinical approach than other books I’ve read on this subject, the majority being fiction, but not all. I was hoping for a bit more of a personally involved perspective, but this has a bit more of a detached, clinical approach than what I was hoping for. She does talk about how everything affects her in a clinical sense, she just doesn’t talk about how that makes her feel, even her stepping into areas of frustration seem removed and aloof. I understand that as a person, but as a reader it kept me from feeling connected. This is the one thing that didn’t work as well for me. For me – that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. This is really a very well balanced book in terms of showing you both the scientific aspect and the more human side of life, when that life is fraught with unpredictable lapses of memory, of understanding, of those moments of panic that set in when we feel trapped by something and can’t figure out way out. Saunders memoir covers quite a bit of territory and includes a blend of research studies further clarified in terms of how it affects someone on a daily basis, along with the memories of her youth, growing up in South Africa, amazing stories including their move from South Africa to Utah. I loved reading about her quest to determine which telling of a story was the most accurate one, which sibling, or parent, neighbor, etc. remembered the accurate numbers and who did what. These areas are where this book really was lovely, a blend of real-life to focus on a real person instead of the academic nature of research. There is some discussion of her literature, Iris Murdoch, Shakespeare.”Murdoch’s own relation to words, speech, writing, stands testament to her conviction that there is no self without language, no route to ‘ultimate divinity’ without the mediating power of words.”There are heartbreaking moments in this, as clinical as these thoughts are at times, sometimes she lowers the protective field and lets the reader see those moments when she clings to these moments when life is still good. When a hug from a grandchild is enough to remember reasons why life still has its “good enough” moments. Also included are her “Field Notes.” Among these are notes on the frustrations of the day. ”Dementia Field Notes, 7-26-2014: The other day I put my bra on over my pajama T-shirt.”Through these you can sense a bit of the day-to-day struggle she lives with and how they range from a simple frustration to frightening ones. The fears of becoming one of those physically alive but mentally no longer involved are examined, with inclusions of thoughts of others, authors, scientists, quotes from Song of Solomon to Jonathan Franzen. Research into the field of Physician Assisted Dying, much like I read about in Deborah Ziegler’s “Wild and Precious Life.”David Shenk, author of “The Forgetting: Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic” shares a thought “the unique curse of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is that it ravages several victims for every brain it infects.” This is a truth too often overlooked. It is usually avoided as a thought until it is unavoidable. No one wants to think of this happening to someone they love. No one wants to think of this happening to someone in their own family. It’s a life changing disease for everyone involved.
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  • Shirley Freeman
    May 9, 2017
    Gerda Saunders was a scientist, an intellectual, a wife, mother and writer when at age 61 she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. For the next several years, she was able to document what was happening to her brain and how it affected her every day life. This erudite memoir is a combination of research explained and daily struggles noted. Saunders does not complain about the unfairness of it all. She goes about her business doing the best she can under the circumstances. Her husband and f Gerda Saunders was a scientist, an intellectual, a wife, mother and writer when at age 61 she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. For the next several years, she was able to document what was happening to her brain and how it affected her every day life. This erudite memoir is a combination of research explained and daily struggles noted. Saunders does not complain about the unfairness of it all. She goes about her business doing the best she can under the circumstances. Her husband and family do the same. No matter the diagnosis, we should all wring as much enjoyment from life as Gerda Saunders does. (to be published in June)
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  • Angie
    June 21, 2017
    Disappointing. I picked this up after hearing the author on NPR, so I expected to like it but threw in the towel about halfway through.It is actually 13 essays about various aspects of her dementia, which is a wise choice of structure for someone with her problem. She talked of the difficulty of writing and how long it took her, so she might not have been able to craft a book-length work.I was not getting nearly as much insight into her experiences with dementia or her progression as I expected, Disappointing. I picked this up after hearing the author on NPR, so I expected to like it but threw in the towel about halfway through.It is actually 13 essays about various aspects of her dementia, which is a wise choice of structure for someone with her problem. She talked of the difficulty of writing and how long it took her, so she might not have been able to craft a book-length work.I was not getting nearly as much insight into her experiences with dementia or her progression as I expected, although there was some. And she discusses brain structure in a lucid well-organized way, better than most writers without dementia!The worst failing, in my opinion, was the EXTENSIVE biographical material about her family and early life. I am guessing that these memories and the information about her family are precious to her, but they were not interesting enough for me to spend time on, and very little of it got tied into the subject of the book.I very much admire that she was able to accomplish this work but not enough to read the whole thing.
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  • Nina
    June 30, 2017
    A remarkable book, written without a hint of self-pity. Just sad-the decline of a brilliant mind but also her manifesto about the meaning of life ("There is no essence, or meaning to life...").
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