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One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing Hardcover – April 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039307241X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393072419
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #784,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Diane Ackerman is the author of two dozen highly-acclaimed works of poetry and nonfiction, including the bestsellers "The Zookeeper's Wife" and "A Natural History of the Senses," and the Pulitzer Prize Finalist, "One Hundred Names for Love."

In her most recent book, "The Human Age: the World Shaped by Us," she confronts the unprecedented fact that the human race is now the single dominant force of change on the whole planet. Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness." Ackerman takes us on an exciting journey to understand this bewildering new reality, introducing us to many of the inspiring people and ideas now creating, and perhaps saving, our future

A note from the author: "I find that writing each book becomes a mystery trip, one filled with mental (and sometimes physical) adventures. The world revealing itself, human nature revealing itself, is seductive and startling, and that's always been fascinating enough to send words down my spine. Please join me on my travels. I'd enjoy the company."

Contact me or follow my posts here:, @dianesackerman,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Mary Azoy on April 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
One Hundred Names for Love is Diane Ackerman's brilliant and inspirational memoir of how she and her husband, the writer Paul West, coped with the stroke that left him - at age 75 - unable to walk, speak, or care for himself in any of the most basic ways. Devastating though it was, the crisis actually couldn't have happened to a better couple - two creative individuals for whom language is nearly as essential as breathing. In addition to the standard treatment protocols, through much experimentation and faith in the brain's plasticity, Ackerman and West developed their own rehabilitation regimen as innovative and playful as it was exhausting.

Four years into West's recovery, Ackerman invites a doctor unfamiliar with the case to comment on her husband's most recent brain scan.

[The doctor] pointed out the damage from the past stroke, in the temporal and parietal lobes, a large dead patch in the frontal lobe, and missing bits elsewhere.

"I'd assume this man has been in a vegetative state," he said with a soft humanity.

On the contrary, Ackerman assures him. By "working the brain hard every day for four and a half years," her husband has not only regained his speech and mobility, but also has written several new books and published a variety of essays.

The doctor shakes his head. "I'm so glad you told me this about him," he said thoughtfully. "It's important to know what's possible."

Certainly possible for two immensely creative and determined human beings who have had the knowledge, will, means, and mutual devotion to take the healing process to its fullest potential. Creative medicine indeed. For which Ackerman and West deserve nothing but the highest regard.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Justin Hyde on April 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
One Hundred Names for Love is an intimate and heart-wrenching memoir of the author's journey from tragedy to revelation. After suffering a stroke, Diane's husband, also an author, lost his speech and his "rich and sophisticated vocabulary was obliterated." The dynamics of their relationship irrevocably changed and they were forced to begin anew.

This is the story of Diane's attempt to develop a new language whereby the couple may communicate and continue their relationship.

This is a perfect introduction to Ackerman's life and work, and an essential volume for her many fans and supporters.

The postscript entitled "Some Lessons Learned" (as well as the suggested further reading) is invaluable for others who have experienced or are experiencing a similar situation.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Mark E. Seinfelt on March 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The fates can be inordinately even perversely cruel. Everything that lives and breathes will be knocked down and smashed, leveled and overrun by the Destroyer of Delight eventually, but Death's sting is not so sharp as other stabs and punctures. There are crueler cuts and harsher hammer blows. For example, the bolt from the blue that felled author Paul West--perhaps our greatest living stylist in English--in 2004. The devastating stroke he suffered then--which ravaged the language centers of his brain and afflicted him with aphasia--seems more than wantonly cruel, rather the height of injustice, a flagrantly unfair and grevious wrong which gives not only West himself, but all his admirers and fans, all lovers and patriots of the word, just ground for complaint and fist shaking at the heavens.
In her new memoir "One Hundred Names For Love," West's wife of many years, the brilliant poet and natural historian Diane Ackerman details the terrible, heartrending period of Paul's loss of language, his long road to recovery and his eventual ressurrection as wordsmith. Her book is a powerful and deeply touching work. Extremely personal, it transcends the merely personal. It is part and parcel of the human condition that our bodies break down and fail us. All of us will have to tend someone we love. Anyone who has been a caregiver will identify with Diane's plight. Paul's case, of course, remains extremely poignant. What I love about the book is how positive and life-affirming it is. We witness a medical miracle unfold before our astonished eyes and learn, by book's end, that since his stroke Paul has completed three novels including a World War II novel and a science fiction extravaganza entitled "Now Voyager." I, for one, would very much like to read these new works.
That Paul is still writing is something that methinks only Diane could have brought about, or rather her love.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jodes on April 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My mom suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm 2+ yrs ago. She's 74 now, does not have use of her right side (she's left handed:) and suffers from Aphasia. Other than that....she is doing very well, good spirits, amazing patience and grateful for everyday she spends with those she loves. She's amazing. I hate seeing her struggle to "find the words" and my father's need to "rescue" her or correct her. His intentions are all good but it's better for her to exercise her verbal communication, so the struggle is part of it. Married 51 years now, and I think they love each other more everyday. But, love is not always enough and although I bought the book for my mom, my dad is reading it now...absolutely necessary to get a better understanding of what "normal" is now. Thank you for a beautiful book.
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