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Elegy for a Disease: A Personal and Cultural History of Polio Hardcover – October 31, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In skillful prose, Finger merges memoir with historical narrative about how polio was viewed and dealt with in the years before the Salk vaccine was invented 50 years ago. Evocative and often poetic, the memoir is also a litany of the miserable, useless, even harmful treatments imposed by helpless doctors on suffering children. She offers a nuanced history, for instance, of the painful and unorthodox heat treatments espoused by Elizabeth Kenny. Finger (Bone Truth), a creative writing teacher at Wayne State and the University of Texas at Austin, was a toddler when she contracted polio in 1954 and describes the traumatic operations, beginning when she was six, that led in turn to complications when she was in her 40s. Taught to believe that she could overcome her disability, Finger overexercised and, while living in England, attended antiwar demonstrations that were physically dangerous. Hospitalized with depression at 20, Finger believes her emotional state can be attributed to polio's effects on the brain in addition to having an abusive father who once choked her during a rage. After years of dissociating herself from others who had had polio, Finger writes, she slowly began her involvement in the disability rights movement and has dealt with a diagnosis of postpolio syndrome. (Nov.)
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“Readers will find themselves caught up in a disabled woman’s coming to terms with herself, her dysfunctional family and society. This unsentimental, grippingly told story will captivate readers and sensitive them to the world of the disabled.”
Library Journal
“Anne Finger creates a lyric prose that shimmers like a serious dream. Both public and private stories concern her narrator's quest for the truth about disabled lives. This is a memoir of history and imagination and it belongs on every book shelf.”
— Stephen Kuusisto, Professor of Disability Studies, The Ohio State University and author of Planet of the Blind
“An informative and rewarding narrative of living with a disability…”
“…skillful prose…evocative and often poetic…a nuanced history.”
Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (October 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031234757X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312347574
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,803,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on July 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating read, both as a primer on the nearly forgotten scourge that polio was up until fifty years ago, and also as a look into a tumultuous and difficult life. Anne Finger wasn't just coping with being a polio victim from early childhood, she also had to deal with a violently abusive parent in her father, who may well have been an undiagnosed bipolar/schizophrenic. Finger describes in frightening detail her long-suppressed memories of being choked and beaten by her father, behavior which was ignored or rationalized by her "enabler" mother. She also notes that her own clinical depression and suicidal tendencies as a young adult may have been inevitable, given her upbringing. In spite of all this, she continued to struggle for understanding of her parents' behavior, linking it often to her "imperfection" of being a polio from early childhood. There is much critically important information on polio - its history and near-eradication - here too, making it an important document in the literature of the disease. Finger has obviously done her homework, making numerous references to other talented polio memoirists and historians such as Leonard Kriegel, Charles Mee, Tony Gould, Peg Kehret, Daniel Wilson, John Paul and Wilfred Sheed, as well as other lesser known writers. This is an important and eminently readable book. - Tim Bazzett, author of Love, War & Polio
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeani Rector on September 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I would like to say up front that the only reason I am giving ELEGY FOR A DISEASE two stars instead of one is because of the fascinating part about the anti-war movement in the late 1960s.

Otherwise, this book would only earn one star at best and I will explain why.

I can understand Ms. Finger's desire not to be pitied, or even admired. However, she expresses such anger in this book that it takes away from any understanding of her situation. To expect others to be tolerant of you, you must be tolerant of others.

As a non-disabled person, I got this book in order to UNDERSTAND. I wanted to educate myself on Ms. Finger's life as a polio survivor. I thought this book would be a good source of education so that I would gleam valuable information from Ms. Finger's point of view.

Instead, I was bombarded with anger and even disgust at the non-disabled. For example, in one scene, Ms. Finger was trying to reach the button at a cross-walk and noticed a female driver staring at her. Ms. Finger yells at the driver, who responds, "I was only admiring you." To that, Ms. Finger became even more verbally abusive.

So, my message to you, Ms. Finger, is this: "If you don't like the behavior of the non-disabled, EDUCATE us, don't YELL at us, don't scorn us, and don't carry this tremendous anger towards us. Do you want us to understand? HELP us to understand."

Your book did not accomplish that. I finally threw the book on the floor in disgust after not even finishing the last chapter. The non-disabled are not voyeurs and vicarious. We are not cruel and evil. We just misunderstand.

Ms. Finger, your book is a missed opportunity to set the record straight. In the meantime, I find your book angry, whining, and that chip on your shoulder is HUGE.

For everyone else: Don't buy this book if you are not disabled, or else you will be classified as "the enemy."
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. Drucker on August 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although polio is a disease people prefer to consign to the past, Elegy for a Disease makes achingly and eloquently clear how post-polio people today are not only battling with the consequences but also insisting on recognition, dignity and empowerment.
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