Monday, May 4, 2015

Review: The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen

Alice Eve Cohen writes beautiful, honest memoirs. Her first memoir, What I Thought I Knew was a searing portrait of her unexpected pregnancy and the complicated feelings around it. In this second memoir, Cohen looks at the mother daughter relationship through the lens of medical procedures, cancer, college, and memories of her own long dead mother.

One year filled with life changing events brings the memory of Cohen's mother back to her decades after her death. Cohen's sunny dispositioned youngest daughter, Eliana, is scheduled to have an excruciatingly painful surgery to lengthen one of her legs, a condition that can potentially be traced back to the tests and drugs that Cohen faced during her surprise pregnancy; Cohen's older daughter, Julia, prepares to leave for college and decides to search for and meet her birth mother; and Cohen receives a diagnosis of breast cancer, the disease that changed her own childhood forever. In the midst of this confluence of events, Cohen starts remembering her mother, her mother's own breast cancer diagnosis, and the resultant devastating change in their relationship as she imagines conversations with her mother.

Cohen's relationship with her mother was far from perfect and it only deteriorated when she hit puberty just as her mother underwent a radical mastectomy and treatment for breast cancer. Her memories of her mother are fraught and at least partially tied up with her perception of their contentious relationship. But as she undergoes her own cancer treatment, despite initial misgivings, Cohen invites the vision of her mother to speak to her, to offer her reassurance, and she starts to remember the real person behind all the hurt. In doing so, she comes to an understanding of her mother's frustrations with her life and finds that offering her mother's memory grace allows her to offer grace to herself as well. In accepting her mother's imperfect mothering, she finds some peace with her past. Forgiveness and remembrance honor the attempt and help her in her own struggle to stop feeling as if she's fallen short. In this magical and terrible year weaving her own childhood through with the events of her present, Cohen explores the complicated love between mothers and daughters and faces the bittersweet realization that more positive time with her mother was cut so short. She looks at the difficult decisions she must make in her own life as a mother and the ways that each of us are flawed. The memoir shines with honest emotion and raw hurt, but most of all, with love. The writing is eloquent and the story is moving. Cohen is forever both mother and daughter and her coming to grips with who she is in each iteration makes the story so vivid and touching.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished this one, and although I'm not usually a reader of memoirs I enjoyed this book. It was very well written. I'm going to have to search out her previous book.


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