From Publishers Weekly
Two phrasemakers and longtime married partners had to relearn a shared, intimate conversation post-stroke as Ackerman narrates in her touching latest work. Paul West, Ackerman's 75-year-old British husband (she is 18 years younger), was a retired English professor and the author of 50-plus books, survivor of diabetes and a pacemaker, when he was struck by a massive stroke that left "a small wasteland" in his brain, especially in the key language areas. For literary minds like West and Ackerman, his inability to formulate language (reduced to repeating numbly the sounds "mem, mem, mem" in anger and confusion) was a shock to them both: "o be so godlike, and yet so fragile," his wife writes in despair. Her memoir of this terrible time, first in the hospital, then at home, records the small victories in his speech making and numerous frustrating setbacks; she even took it upon herself to make up humorous but challenging exercises for him to do, Mad Libs–style. Contrary to the bleak prognosis, West gradually made progress, while their journey makes for goofy, pun-happy reading, a little like overhearing lovers coo to each other. (Apr.)
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*Starred Review* Two wordsmiths enthralled by the glimmering pleasures of the life of the mind have lived together in literary camaraderie for decades. So when novelist, memoirist, and critic Paul West was hit with a stroke in 2005 that left his brain scorched and his body battered, both he and his wife, Diane Ackerman, a poet and the lushly original author of such seismic books as The Zookeeper’s Wife (2007), had a lot to lose. But West never succumbed to his impaired vision, frozen right hand, or, most remarkably, bewildering and silencing global aphasia; and Ackerman, who by fortuitous prescience had conducted extensive neurological research for her book An Alchemy of Mind (2004), proved to be an ideal caregiver. Writing with her signature empathy, curiosity, brilliance, and mirth, Ackerman chronicles West’s heroic battle to reclaim words and mobility and her tailoring of West’s speech therapy to match his spectacular vocabulary and unique intelligence. A master of vivid metaphors and multifaceted narratives, Ackerman candidly addresses the profound demands facing caregivers while explaining the cruel consequences of aphasia, charting West’s against-all-odds return to conversing and writing (The Shadow Factory, 2008) and marveling over the healing powers of language and intimacy. A gorgeously engrossing, affecting, sweetly funny, and mind-opening love story of crisis, determination, creativity, and repair. --Donna Seaman