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Editorial Reviews


"This book clearly deals with a dark, difficult, and important subject. I can’t imagine anyone better equipped to do full justice to such a profound human experience." — Michael Cunningham, author of By Nightfall and The Hours

"We have never needed this book more." — Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying

"I was swept away by this book. Heartfelt, heartbreaking and brave, it takes us on a fascinating ethical journey in prose that shines with Wesolowska’s love for her son. I feel fortunate for the experience, as if I have held Silvan myself. I’ll never forget it." — Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land and A Thousand Lives

"A tender, poignant and courageous narrative – insightful and beautifully written." — Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"When I picked up this book for the first time, my heart sank. I wondered if I could even bear to read such a sad story. And yet, within moments, I couldn’t put it down. I read long into the night, unable to leave the story until I reached its at once achingly tragic and profoundly life-affirming end. That the story of the death of a child is, in fact, life-affirming is a tribute to Monica Wesolowska’s graceful prose, her unflinching eye, and most of all her indomitable spirit. This book taught me more about a mother’s love than anything I have ever read before or since." — Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace

"When someone writes about grief they also write about courage, since they survived to tell the story. The beauty and emotional integrity of Holding Silvan strikes me to the core. This book is brilliant." — Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water

From the Inside Flap

In the opening of Holding Silvan, Monica Wesolowska gives birth to her first child, a healthy-seeming boy who is taken from her arms for “observation” when he won’t stop crying. Within days, Monica and her husband have been given the grimmest of prognoses for Silvan. They must make a choice about his life. The story that follows is not of typical maternal heroism. There is no medical miracle here. Instead, we find the strangest of hopes. In clear and unflinching prose, this startling memoir bears witness not only to a son’s brief life but to the evolution of the writer herself – from Catholic girl yearning after sainthood to maternal struggle to give her son the best she can. The result is a page-turning testimony to the power of love. By raising ethical questions about how a death can be good in the age of modern medicine, Holding Silvan becomes a paean to what makes life itself good. Whether you have faced great loss or not, this book will change your life.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Hawthorne Books (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 098600071X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0986000713
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Monica Wesolowska is the author of the memoir, Holding Silvan: A Brief Life, which was named a "Best Book of 2013" by both Library Journal and The Boston Globe. A memoir of mother love and modern medicine, Holding Silvan is also available in German and forthcoming in Polish. She has published her work in many literary journals and anthologies including Best New American Voices 2000; My Little Red Book; Beach: Stories from the Sand and Sea; The Carolina Quarterly; Pisgah Review, Quarter After Eight and online at Literary Mama. A former fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, she has taught fiction writing at the University of California Extension for over a decade. She lives in her hometown of Berkeley with her family. She is available for visiting your book group via Skype. Read more at www.monicawesolowska.com

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Anna Weidman on March 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
Monica Wesolowska has written a fierce and compelling account of love and loss and more love. This story should be read by anyone who has been engulfed by a tragedy and who has lived on to risk and love again.

Holding Silvan is a beautifully written and glaringly honest account of a crisis faced by a couple and the family, friends, nurses, and doctors who surrounded them.

I recommend this beautifully written memoir to friends, therapists, pastors, and anyone who wants to be reminded of the transformative and unexpected choices we can bravely make for those whom we most deeply love. This book will deepen your appreciation for all of the blessings in your life and give you greater compassion for those among us who must make the hardest of choices.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By I. DeBare on February 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
Monica Wesolowska and her husband face a situation that no parent should ever have to face - a newborn son, unexpectedly brain-damaged to a point where he will not be able to do the most basic life functions like swallow. Ms. Wesolowska writes about this with the clarity and acuity of a Joan Didion. She conveys grief without sentimentality, like this line: "Nine months of hope is a hard habit to break."

I doubt I would have wanted to read this book when I was pregnant, but I found it gripping and tore through it in a day. Wesolowska weaves in her family history - other deaths she's experienced, the Catholic faith she was raised in and later left behind, etc. We see the strength of her marriage, the support she gets from family and friends, and the determination and clarity with which she insists on giving Silvan as good a life as he can have in his short time. Silvan was lucky to have her and her husband David as parents, and we are lucky as readers that she is willing to share the story with us.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eve Muller on April 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This powerful, well-wrought book is a must for anyone thinking about death and parenting in the modern age. Wesolowska shares with us, in beautiful prose, the story of her and her husband's decision to spend the few precious weeks of their firstborn son's life holding and loving him as opposed to forcing him to stay alive via intrusive, artificial means. It is a hard book to read, but well worth the effort. Wesolowska doesn't sugarcoat the experience of disappointment, rage, and loss that is necessarily part of such an experience. We follow her story with baited breath, as she must have, hoping against hope that Silvan will somehow survive in spite of it all. He does not. And we experience her pain as a parent, struggling to reconcile her joy-filled expectations with the heartbreaking reality of her son's brief life. The ultimate message, however, is one of hope: Silvan - even in his short time among us - lives a full life. A strange and unexpectedly complete life. Yet the book is not merely an intimate narrative of Silvan's life. Wesolowska does not stop there (although she could have). Interwoven with this bittersweet tale, is a compelling meditation on American culture and the American medical establishment, both of which too often value quantity over quality. The fact that Wesolowska is able to move us not only emotionally, but also intellectually, is a tribute to her skill as an author and her love as a mother. This book should be required reading for all medical professionals.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Monica N on May 17, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Holding Silvan is a heart-wrenching story of an impossibly difficult situation and a mother's fierce and undying love. Monica Wesolowska is a gifted writer and astonishingly brave. This is a deeply moving and even hopeful book.

If you feel like you "can't" read this book due to the difficult subject matter, I strongly encourage you to buck up and give it a try. I predict that--like me--you won't be able to stop reading. And further, that you'll never regret getting to know Silvan through the extraordinary prose of his loving mother.
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Hayden on May 28, 2013
Format: Paperback
I keep thinking about this book. It was one I read in one sitting, crying at times for an unspeakable journey to the loss of a child. What keeps me from reviewing this book favorably is that I had big problems with the ethical decisions made by the parents of Silvan. I am pro choice--and not a religious person, but letting Silvan die by slow dehydration and starvation seemed inhumane to me. Obviously, some medical caregivers agreed, since there was a ethics board meeting on the case, and some nurses that refused to work with a family making such an extreme choice. The diagnosis of Silvan's brain damage never seemed 100% substantiated. If there was even a 1% chance my child could live and exceed the expectations of his grim prognosis, you bet I would be feeding him. I was heartbroken that when Silvan began to root, searching for food, the parents fought to keep him unfed. The author tries to justify this with the idea that a dying person feels pain relief during starvation and that she was saving him the pain of gassy-ness, digestion woes, etc. It really felt cruel to me. Throw in the overdose of morphine the parents try to give to kill their son (unsuccessfully) after he is emaciated and his mouth is literally black with rot, I couldn't stomach it. There have been babies with this prognosis that haven't remained in vegetative states. I can't understand why this family was so intent on Silvan dying in this way. They were warned if they fed him by mouth, his suck-swallow reflex might be uncoordinated, which could lead to aspiration and pneumonia. I can understand wanting to spare Silvan the pain of this, but they never even TRIED feeding Silvan, after his feeding tube was disconnected. Even when he clearly wanted to nurse. The author is arguing that she is letting her son die out of love. I was not convinced of this in the end.
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