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Only With the Heart Hardcover – September 12, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1st edition (September 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559705388
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559705387
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,775,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Alzheimer's disease claims more than its victim in Szeman's (The Kommandant's Mistress) delicately structured, poignant novel of love, memory and family responsibility. In and out of foster homes all her life, Claudia Page is 13 when she is finally adopted by a smalltown family. She loves her new mother, Grace, and older brother, Roger, but only when she becomes engaged to Sam Sloane, Roger's best friend, does she feel she really belongs. Sam's mother, Eleanor, welcomes Claudia as the daughter she never had, expressing her love by sharing bits of remembered songs, old photographs and heirloom jewelry. But early on, Eleanor is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and she becomes increasingly confused, confrontational, forgetful, morbid and violent. When Sam's father dies, Claudia and Sam decide to care for Eleanor themselves, little suspecting how difficult it will be and how their marriage will suffer. After years of their devoted care, Eleanor is found dead of an overdose of prescription pills. Although Sam and Claudia admit that each had occasionally hoped that Eleanor's misery would end with her merciful death, neither is prepared for the ensuing nightmare. Seizing on circumstantial evidence, a power-hungry DA brings Claudia to trial for the murder of her mother-in-law. The story is told from three points of view: Claudia reveals her feelings through sessions with her psychiatrist; Eleanor shares the terror of living inside her own head; and Sam tells his tale through memories dredged up during the trial. As the narrative flits back and forth through time, it becomes clear that neither Sam nor Claudia is an entirely credible witness. It is a credit to Szeman's artistry that perhaps the stricken Eleanor is the most reliable narrator. Though somewhat dated in tone and vague when it comes to specifics of place, the novel is dead-on in its depiction of the destructive power of a disease that can devastate a family. Agent, Jennifer Hengen. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Szeman, author of the brilliant Kommandant's Mistress (1993), powerfully conveys the devastation wrought by Alzheimer's on family relationships in this novel written from the perspectives of a woman inflicted with the debilitating condition, her daughter-in-law, and her son. Claudia, the daughter-in-law, begins by recalling her own unhappy youth in foster homes and her joy at marrying Sam and gaining a loving mother-in-law in Eleanor. Claudia's recollections are overlaid with conversations with her psychiatrist that slowly reveal the deterioration of a promising relationship, several miscarriages, and a police investigation when Eleanor dies. In flashbacks, Claudia and Sam recall their lives together and the struggle to care for Eleanor in their home after Sam's father dies. After eight years of deterioration, the disease has taken its horrific toll on the three, shattering their closeness. Eleanor's recollections are the painful offerings of a woman losing her bearings in life and searching for a way out of the certain deterioration. Suspicions that Claudia may have assisted Eleanor's death lead to a murder trial and further complicate this story of filial and marital devotion in the face of Alzheimer's. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Quaker Annie on September 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book was definitely not written for the mass market, so if you are looking for a traditional style novel, think twice before you read this one.
Like the Kommandant's Mistress, the writing style is troubling, for it is much like our minds probably are, with just a little editing. The book is divided into three sections - one is from the view of a woman (Claudia) who ends up on trial for the murder (assisted suicide) of her mother-in-law (Eleanor), who had Alzheimer's. The second section is from Eleanor's viewpoint. The final section is told from the viewpoint of the Sam, son of the dead woman, as Claudia stands trial.
Szeman gives us the story from different perspectives, something not unusual at all. However, as in her first novel (The Kommandant's Mistress), the thoughts shared by each person are from minds left somewhat unattended. In the same paragraph, one sentence or thought will lead to something else from different moments in the past, then back again to the present. You cannot read this book without paying attention, or you will become lost.
In addition, each person has a different view of people and events. Each strongly believes their own story to be the correct one. Of course, nothing in real life (unlike most movies and novels) is clear, cluttered (unencumbered by sanity, as the old saying goes). No renditions of an event, by more than one person, is ever definite, in absolute agreement, untainted by egos or one-sided perceptions. In this book, events and memories are misty, conflicting, unsettling.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Chel on May 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
Only with the Heart is the story of a family being torn apart by Alzheimer's disease. Claudia, who grew up a foster child, has finally found a family amongst that of her husband Sam. His mother, Eleanor, becomes her own mother, and everyone in the family loves and accepts her. After Sam and Claudia's marriage, however, things head downhill. Eleanor is falling deeper and deeper into her illness, and when her own husband dies, she goes to live with her son and daughter-in-law. Eleanor's mind, and the quality of life of those who care for her, only degrades until she finally passes away. Claudia is accused of murder, and it seems that this family will never be allowed to rest, to heal.

The story is in three parts: The first is Claudia's perspective. Immediately, you notice the writing style is not at all conventional. Parts of it are a conversation between herself and her therapist. The rest is her relating her experiences. She shifts suddenly between stories, and from one point in time to the next. There is no smooth transition, it just happens.This works for the character, though. This style choice seems to give the impression that Claudia's thoughts are fractured and jumbled, that she herself is still trying to sort it all out.

Next is Eleanor. The writing style reflects her mental state very well. She, too, shift from one point in time to another very abruptly. She is in the throes of her Alzheimer's, and then, at stark contrast, a her old self again. She, with a stunted vocabulary and a poor understanding of what is happening around her, puts us right in the head of an Alzheimer's sufferer. It's quite incredible to see Alzheimer's depicted this way. It make Eleanors illness feel very real to the reader.

Last is Sam.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Yu-han Chao on January 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
The story in "Only with the Heart" is told from three points of view by three different characters: Eleanor, an elderly woman with Alzheimer's, her son Sam, and her daughter in law Claudia. The mystery here is we don't know how Eleanor died (not for sure.) Claudia's and Sam's accounts of the events from past to present contradict one another in many ways, which makes both of them suspicious. Either of them could have killed Eleanor, whose medical bills and deteriorating memory was bankrupting the family and causing stress in Sam's and Claudia's marriage.

A sad and beautiful story. The part of the book that is written from Eleanor's point of view is especially poignant and sad as she loses her memory and skips back and forth, forgetting the words for things, not understanding.
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More About the Author

Legal name ALEXANDRIA CONSTANTINOVA SZEMAN. Author of several critically acclaimed and award-winning books, includingTHE NEW YORK TIME BOOK REVIEW'S "Best Book of the Year" THE KOMMANDANT'S MISTRESS, as well as LOVE IN THE TIME OF DINOSAURS, WHERE LIGHTNING STRIKES, NAKED WITH GLASSES, and MASTERING POINT OF VIEW, among others.

See my official Amazon Author page at for a complete listing of all my books. That page also lists my website, which contains my contact information, blog, and twitter feeds. Thanks, my loyal readers. Enjoy the Revised, Updated, Expanded, Anniversary Editions of my first three books, along with all my new books.

(Formerly writing under the pseudonym "Sherri" because 1st Editor said my name "wouldn't fit on the cover of the book", and that she wanted an "easy first name" to go with my "hard last name;" subsequent editors were afraid to "lose name recognition of THE KOMMANDANT'S MISTRESS.")