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Lifesaving: A Memoir Paperback – April 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: The Eighth Mountain Press (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0933377444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0933377448
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1963, when poet Barrington was 19, an event sliced her life in two: the cruise ship Lakonia departed Southampton, England, with her parents aboard. Three days later, north of Madeira, a fire broke out, and 131 passengers, including her parents, were left stranded without lifeboats and drowned. (Her mother had often predicted she would die at sea, yet Barrington's father had been fond of egging his wife into sailing races and other water sports.) In this accomplished memoir, Barrington recalls the three years that followed this incident, in which she fled to a small town in northern Spain; her book doubles as the lesbian coming-out story of a young woman who must resolve her truncated relationship with her parents. Flashbacks to a lonely childhood in which she couldn't connect with either parent and particularly despised her "pigheaded" father give way to a future in which Barrington is finally able to achieve a degree of resolution around her loss. And as Barrington recounts her adventures in Catalonia, where she worked as the tour guide at a busy winery, the narrative reveals the complex ways in which she began to find, and accept, herself. Throughout, her writing is superb; she evokes smalltown Spain under Franco in lush detail with solid philosophical insight into the tragedy that changed her life: "What I had gleaned from my parents' death was not that ships are dangerous, but that what you fear most is." Among the growing number of memoirs, this is a gem. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Barrington, a British poet and author, demonstrates her mastery of words in this coming-of-age story. Barrington's parents drowned as a result of a cruise ship fire when she was 19, and here she reflects on her search for her identity at a time when she was in denial of her parents' deaths. She goes to work in Spain, where her parents lived before she was born and where the family vacationed. The area and language are familiar to her, but she is enough of a foreigner that her somewhat strange behavior is excused. Barrington keeps herself so busy that she barely has the time or energy to deal with her loss. Finally, after three years, she is able to vent her emotions. She comes to realize how much she misses her parents and that she is not responsible for their deaths. What captivates the reader even more than the narrative is the wonderful prose the author employs in describing Spain and her life there. Recommended for all libraries.
-Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences Lib., Philadelphia
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Judith Barrington's Lifesaving achieves a rare balance of narrative restraint and rich storytelling. As a poet,Barrington knows the power of the not-said. She holds us in thrall with the harrowing story of her parents' tragic drowning death when she was nineteen, yet she never retreats to the indulgence or overtelling that characterizes many memoirs crowding shelves today. Instead, in her carefully crafted chapters, we glimpse a young woman's coming of age in Spain in the 1960's, her search for love and a place to belong, her move to America, and her eventual reconciliation with a painful past. Layered through Barrington's story of personal transformation is a meditation on the making of stories and the nature of memory, a thread so subtly woven that we are never forced from our immersion in the story. Lifesaving is a remarkable memoir. I savored it first for the story, then reread it to appreciate the finely-wrought structure.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be a beautiful account of loss that is written with originality, tenderness, and even humor. These qualities, filtered through the consciousness of Judith Barrington with her genius for astonishingly clear and honest writing, create a portrait of a girl who has lost her moorings and is trying to find a way to save herself. The memoir captures a time when "grief" was not a word anybody said publicly, certainly not in England. When she learns that her parents have died in a terrible accident at sea, Barrington escapes the emotional distance of the British in general and, in particular, her older siblings. She heads directly, though at the time unconsciously, for the place where her parents once spent their happiest times.From the moment we enter Spain, Barrington angles the light so that somehow we are under the intoxicating Spanish sun with her younger self--speeding along in her mother's MG through hilly terrain and meeting a cast of lovable, peculiar, and disturbing characters worthy of a great novel--and at the same time with her older self who is now wise enough to compassionately observe the deep sufferening she was experiencing at the time. She was not one of the flower children of the 1960s on an adventure to experiment with life, but a wholly intelligent and remarkable young woman who was trying to conceal (even from herself) an aching grief beneath a wild youthful attraction to trouble, sex, and danger. She writes every line like a poet, but the overall effect is like a novel. By the end, when she recounts how she finally allowed herself to enter the reality of her parents' deaths, I cried for her both in sadness and in joy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Reader on May 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I don't get all the glowing reviews written here. I am memoir obsessed at the moment and have been reading everything I can get my hands on. In other words, I am currently inclined to like a book just because it is a memoir.

Lifesaving, however, just frustrated and annoyed me. At the sentence level, the writing was fine. At the level of narrative, however, it seemed as though she was refusing to tell the story. . .which as far as I can tell (easier said than done, and I have a PhD in English) is about her transformation out of a state of refusing to let herself feel and into a more open and accepting state of mind. The most interesting bits (the part where the transformation occurs) are missing from the book, skipped over in a way that feels like a slap in this reader's face: you will not get what you came for, my story.

It left me wondering **why** did Barrington even bother telling her story? Any indication of this seemed conspicuously and painfully absent.

One of the most respectable traits of a strong memoirist is her ability to make the ordinary compelling and to find a story in her life that others really ought to experience. But Barrington's account of her experiences--as remarkable and extra-ordinary as the "facts" seem to be--was quite unremarkable at best and homophobic at worst. After 150 pages (3/4 of the book) I found myself wanting to shout, "Okay, I get it. You are avoiding feeling anything, so why are you telling your story?!"

Honestly, I just don't get what makes this memoir so highly ratable by others here. It's as if I read another book (so I checked--it's the same one ;-). Bleh.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is my idea of how a memoir ought to be written: honest, engaging, revealing, but not at all self obsessed. At the heart of the story is a great loss: the death of the author's parents when she was nineteen, but surrounding that core is a story of a young woman in Spain. It evokes the place and time, it convinces on many levels, and I couldn't put it down. I plan to read it again...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Maureen Michelson on May 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Lifesaving" is a skillfully written memoir that often reads like poetry, and tells an utterly fascinating story. Once I began reading, I couldn't stop. Judith Barrington writes about her first three years after the drowning deaths of her parents in 1963, passengers on the ill-fated cruise ship, Lakonia. And around those core three years Barrington intertwines threads from other chapters of her life that frame the story like a finely crocheted border.
Long after reading the final passages in Barrington's memoir, her images continue to captivate, and yes, haunt me---whether imagining the cold night sea that engulfed her parents, or picturing the author, years later, watching home movies from the 1950s, pushing the pause button to scrutinize and remember her mother's hands.
This memoir also left me ruminating over people and life changing events that I have grappled with in my own life. Judith Barrington's vulnerability and honesty in telling her difficult story are an inspiration for those of us seeking the rawer truths in our own lives.
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