A mother faces her child’s congenital heart condition in this debut book.
Mayer opens her work in December 1984, when she and her husband, Helmut, received alarming news about their only child, Marc, a mere 13 days after his birth. The jarring title came from the mouth of a cardiologist who gravely and insensitively assessed Marc’s prognosis at the beginning of their journey. Mayer, aghast, remembers thinking, “Incompatible with nature? What did that mean? Was I some kind of monster? How do you look a mother in her face and utter such a thing?” What sets this memoir apart is the author’s distinct sense of cultural displacement as an African-American woman living in Germany with a rudimentary grasp of the language at best. Consequently, a situation that was already stressful became even more exasperating as she struggled to communicate with medical professionals. Mayer, however, is courteous to her readers: on the few occasions when German is not directly translated into English, she provides enough context clues to convey the message in a comfortable and unobtrusive manner. Critically, her family in the Seattle area lent great support despite the distance, whether on the phone or through inherited refrains that Mayer invoked in times of crisis, such as “ain’t no givin’ up and no givin’ out” or “let go and let God.” These examples are indicative of the linguistic richness to be found throughout the text. There are also moments of humor despite the heavy subject matter, including this gem from the author’s mother that Mayer suddenly recalled during an awkward silence after she questioned the head doctor’s account of the treatments Marc had received on a particular day: “It’s so quiet you can hear a mouse piss on cotton.” Beyond the chronological reporting in this testament to a parent’s strength, the author shares lessons learned as a child and young adult via poignant flashbacks, especially regarding her relationship with her father. Thus, in addition to recounting harrowing events surrounding Marc’s condition, she allows herself space to reflect on philosophical notions like the slippery nature of time: “Out of reach, uncontrollable, too much and never enough, indeed it is too often the most mangled thread in the fabric of our human existence.”
A parent’s inspiring memoir, full of love, humor, and heartache.
Beautiful phrasing throughout. Author’s emotional recounting of this story, showing great strength in re-living it, springs from some lovely wording and visual descriptions such as bridging over their challenges. Author conveys emotion in tremendously sensory and experiential descriptions, such as roaring from the pit of her stomach. We feel her confusion, her shock, her fear, and we are hit experientially with her description of the doctor’s words as instruments of torture. Very well put. Readers who have been through health crises can relate. Author paints settings very well, adding sensory details that make scenes come to life, and dialogue is instilled with energy and connection. Very well done. Chaarcters’ voices are well differentiated, and author does us a great service in sharing the meanings of German words and phrasing, at the same time engaging us to feel perplexed alongside her in these moments. Author uses movement well in descriptions and in dialogue interactions, a great instinct for breathing realism into the book. We’re moved by what she is facing, and we’re moved by her strength and faith. We learn from her experience the difference between changing one’s mind and not accepting the minds of others. That’s very powerful and one of the greatest gifts of this book. Very well done. The doctor’s resistance to releasing her son to American physicians’ care moves the reader, since our hearts sink at the idea that they would be concerned with a sense of admission that they cannot handle her son’s case well enough. Author uses all caps in her reaction so well. We’re screaming alongside her. Author has crafted a moving account, one that can be of great guidance to any readers facing a similar situation. Well done. Author’s writing voice carries us confidently through some unthinkably difficult moments, yet still embraces us.