It would be easy to assume that the story of Laura Rothenberg's battle with cystic fibrosis is one of a brave young woman staying constantly positive in the face of tremendous adversity. But situations such as hers are rarely that simple. Thankfully, the portrait that emerges in her memoir, Breathing for a Living
, is that of a complex and very real human being who experiences joy, anger, despair, and hopefulness while struggling to live the kind of normal life most of her fellow college students take for granted. And while her candor is admirable, what makes Rothenberg a remarkable author is her dedication to just getting words written down on the page at times when many would simply retreat from the world. Through an agonized process of waiting for a lung transplant, she writes down exactly what she's feeling. She writes extensively as her body fights the disease and struggles to accept the new lungs. And as she is shuttled back and forth between her New York home, her academic career at Brown, and numerous emergency hospital stays, she keeps on writing. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at three days old, Rothenberg spent much of her life in and out of hospital rooms so her medical knowledge is extensive and well documented. One gets the impression that staying on top of this information helped her feel at least somewhat in control of her own situation and it lends a steady gravity to her emotionally charged memoir. The book is a pastiche of e-mails to friends, journal entries, and the occasional snapshot. It looks very much like a college kid's scrapbook, which, in many ways, it is. Rothenberg’s energetic prose is highly informal and probably more guileless than one would see from a more seasoned writer. But that intimacy and simplicity adds to the charm and, as Rothenberg's health deteriorates, the heartbreak as well. By the end of Breathing for a Living
, the reader loses a friend but gains a greater appreciation of what it means to live. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
"I'm a typical college student, if there is such a thing," writes Rothenberg in this far from typical work. "Except that I won't be able to look back on my life from an old age." Rothenberg, who died in March at the age of 22, originally wrote these calm, devastating lines in an essay as a freshman at Brown University. During her sophomore year, after Rothenberg became so ill from cystic fibrosis that she had to leave school, she decided to weave this essay into a much longer account. Starting early in 2001, as she waited in Boston for a double lung transplant, and continuing until her death, Rothenberg collected her personal diary entries, poems and copies of the e-mails she wrote to her many friends-dispatches from the battlefield of her own body. Shining through every report, every raw or bittersweet detail, is a fierce dedication to honesty and an immense desire to connect to friends and to life. "We have lungs," one of her doctors calls to tell her early one morning. Rothenberg describes repeating the phrase into the phone to her still-sleeping parents; they were on their feet and packing by the time she repeated the joyous phrase to other friends, who repeated it like a mantra into mobile phones until the waiting room at Boston's Children's Hospital was overflowing with people who loved her-"Team Laura." Too soon, however, the joy of the transplant and her return to Brown gives way to descriptions of one setback after another, culminating in rejection of the lungs. Refusing to indulge in even a wisp of false hope or consolation, Rothenberg reminds us that there is a power in us that is greater than even the greatest suffering. This slim book will help anyone whose life has been touched by cystic fibrosis, and countless others as well. It is an unforgettably real testament of the strength of one human spirit, and of our common human wish to know and say and be the truth.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.