From Publishers Weekly
This compelling and complex narrative is based on a New York Times Magazine story by Siebert (Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral) that recounted his involvement with a team of surgeons who "harvested" a human heart from a recently dead person and transplanted it into a waiting recipient. What has evolved from that essay is a combination memoir, biography, science essay, medical history, social study, mythological exploration; above all, it is an excellent piece of journalism. Beginning with a scene in which a sleepless Siebert lies in bed listening to his "heart's tracks" and contemplating his mortality, he ranges widely among topics, including his father's heart ailments and death, Siebert's own heart-based panic attacks and his troubled relationship with his father, a short history of public anatomies from the 16th century to today and, finally, his involvement with the heart harvest, which culminated in an assisting surgeon placing Siebert's hand onto the beating, transplanted heart. Uniting his subjects is his fight against the idea that a greater medical knowledge about the workings of the heart "has led to a diminished appreciation of its abiding metaphysical significance." Siebert wonderfully illustrates how the heart does not serve as the seat of emotions, but rather as "the brain's subtle antagonist, its emotional and psychological counterpoise," and that the mystique of the heart "now requires even newer and better metaphors in order to be conveyed." Best of all is Siebert's exploration throughout of the subtle paradox of "the burden on the heart... which the very life that a heart allows brings."
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*Starred Review* After writing a novel, Angus (2000), Siebert returns to the style of creative nonfiction that made his first book, Wickerby (1997), so striking, that is, a vigorously descriptive and analytical blend of memoir, observation, and history. Here his subject is a mighty one, the human heart, both "medical and metaphoric." This is a subject close to Siebert's heart, if you will, because of his father's premature death from a congenital disease of the heart muscle called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Siebert poignantly remembers his father, a "fainthearted" man, and candidly chronicles his own bout with "heart paranoia": fears for his father and other anxieties caused what felt like heart attacks. Charmingly self-deprecating and unfailingly ardent, Siebert seeks the deepest possible understanding of all that he learns and experiences, pondering most intriguingly the astonishments of the genome and the mysterious connection between heart and brain. Ultimately, his quest leads to his witnessing a marvel of technical accomplishment and a sheer miracle: the harvesting of the beating heart of a young, brain-dead woman and its transplantation into an older man. Siebert's far-ranging and involving study of the heart is truly an inquiry into the very essence of life. Donna Seaman
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