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The Alchemy of Illness Paperback – November 21, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on her own experience with CFIDS (chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome), the author of this collection of eight essays explores the mystery of human pain. "Illness is a familiar yet foreign landscape," she writes. "It remains a wilderness . . . despite its continuing presence in our lives." Duff spent "the better part of two years" in bed; during her sickness she read widely and voluminously, pursuing "the meaning and purposes of illness." Bringing together insights from psychology, religion and anthropology, and explicating the words of shamans and philosophers from many cultures, Duff tracks the universality of illness and the curious contradictions--the sense of freedom, for example--that emerge in its midst. Her own healing, achieved through "tedious, tenuous and life-giving labor," is a model of hope. Duff is a counselor in northern New Mexico.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Library of Congress-assigned subject headings ("Sick-psychology" and "Chronic fatigue syndrome-psychological aspects") suggest the gist of this book, which was written by "a white woman of sufficient means and mystical temperament nearing forty in twentieth century America" and unfortunately stricken with chronic Epstein-Barr virus, the yuppie flu. However, the LC listings fail to bring out the parapsychological aspects--the "alchemy" of the title--that are a major part of the story. Duff writes, "For the only way I can evoke and describe this ultimately ineffable dark heart of the universe, that black hole that opens up in illness, and begin to address the question of healing that rises from its center, is through storytelling: the telling of my dreams, the stories of goddesses, my experience and those of other sick people." Duff proceeds to recount her dreams. A shaman tells her that she was "a sacrifice dying so that others may live... we would not call you sick, but wounded." This reader just doesn't get it. For "Sick-psychology," Arthur Frank's At the Will of the Body ( LJ 3/15/91) and Norman Cousins's Anatomy of an Illness (LJ 9/1/79) are better titles.
- James Swanton, Albert Einstein Coll. of Medicine, New York
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony (November 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609899430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609899434
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #803,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 8, 1998
Format: Paperback
I started this book and was instantly caught up in the feeling-"She knows me, how is this possible?" The book is written with almost a poet's viewpoint of illness, but there is such love and comfort in it. Most of all, Kat knows what it feels like to hope and pray that "perhaps it was just for one time and it won't happen again". I know that this is what I think, everytime I am hit with another "flare" of fibromyalgia. I always think that perhaps this will be the last one. She also allows herself to finally give in to the feeling of chronic illness, to sink into the dark place; something that is so difficult to do! I felt as if I had written so much of it, myself, as she writes of "trying to get as much done as possible" on days when the illness is in remission--fully aware that a payment will be due, for overdoing. I do not agree with some of her "new age" philosophy aproaches, but it works for her and everyone must find his or her own way. I too, know what it feels like to feel the beginning of "it" coming on and refusing to admit what is happening and as" it" progresses, to finally just allow" it" to have it's way and sink into this void that is chronic illness. Kat also makes a wonderful point of stating that only people with an illness can truly appreciate "good health", as we never take a day for granted, when we feel wonderful. It is not the" norm", so therefore, it is so much more special. Obviously, healthy people never know what a gift, they have been handed.Read more ›
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 1996
Format: Paperback
This is a beautifully written book in which Kat Duff
tells of her physical and emotional battle with
chronic fatique syndrome. It is also an analysis of
the historical and social positions of chronic and
debilatating illness in western society. Duff has
both emotional and intellectual depth; her text
includes references to works by Virginia Woolf,
Deepak Chopra, Oliver Sacks, Albert Kreinheder,
John Donne, Audre Lorde, Carl Jung, Alice James,
Susan Griffin, Susan Sontag, and many others. It is
a beautiful example of the integration of mind-body.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 27, 1998
Format: Paperback
I have had CFS for 10 years and have endlessly struggled to understand why the person I have become no longer "works' in the world out there. Katt Duff sheds a beautiful, gentle and insightful light on this question in her beautifully written account of the nature of illness. It is more than this though, it is a spellbindingly familliar (to those of us who are ill) account of the EXPERIENCE of being ill. In short I wept for myself when I read this book but was also profoundly relieved to, at last, make sense of an experience for which we are so little prepared, is profoundly affecting, and yet which is likely to come to us all one day - namely - being ill. A beautiful book. Read it if you are yourself unwell, if you want to understand someone close to you who is unwell, or if you just want to learn more about all aspects of the human condition: the inner as well as the outer, the dark as well as the light, the soft as well as the strong.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Pamela Byrd on December 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
"Oh, yes, I remember this place" (a quote from the book) are words that I think of whenever I begin to feel the twinge of illness settling in to my life. Kat Duff is an excellent author and wrote a captivating and well-researched book. There are too few books written about something so common as illness and this is the best I have read. I keep this book by my nightstand and break it out whenever I feel illness approaching.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By S.C. on March 16, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kat Duff has written the bible for sufferers of chronic pain and illness. She deepens the discussion of the connection between mind, body, soul, and spirit to the level of true wisdom, purchased at the price of meticulous reflections on her own experience of physical misery and pain. This book is a must read for medical students, doctors, psychotherapists, and anyone who has struggled or is struggling to align themselves with healing in the face of frustration and despair. As a Jungian Analyst, I simply can't stop recommending this book to people I work with and to virtually everyone else know.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Debra L. Schultz on November 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
A magnficiently-written and luminous text, The Alchemy of Illness meditates upon the experience of being ill, using illustrations from the author's own experience, from myth, and from well-chosen classics of literature. Reading this lovely book is a healing experience itself, as the reader is reminded that illness is a quintessential part of the human experience, not the aberration that our current health and youth-obsessed culture presents it to be. I have sent this book to friends and colleagues all over the world. It is a joy to share this gem with others facing the challenge of responding to illness with grace and meaning, as Kat Duff encourages us to do.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Zurcher on August 6, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For anyone suffering from chronic illness, this book is pure gold. Illness is not always just a tragedy and a waste. It can be an important part of the soul's journey. This book reminds us that illness has its messages and lessons and that it may just be what we needed in order to stop, listen, remember, let go... and eventually find our true selves and our true purpose.
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