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The Tincture of Time: A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty Hardcover – April 25, 2017
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“A delicate weave of cultural analysis, personal history, and religious teachings in a meditation on the limits of science and the boundless capacity of the human heart.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Silver brings to this moving personal account a novelist’s pacing, a poet’s lyricism and a researcher’s meticulousness for fact.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“The mental trauma resulting from the very real possibility that a beloved baby may die is difficult to articulate. Nonetheless, Silver does so—masterfully—in her book The Tincture of Time. . . . The strength of Tincture is its close attention to detail, which immerses the reader in events as they unfold. . . . Readers don’t have to be parents to relate to this engaging story and thoughtful, thorough consideration of uncertainty within and outside the medical establishment.”
—The Jewish Book Council
“A mother’s uncertainty about her baby daughter’s medical care pervades this unsettling memoir. . . . Readers will share Silver’s unease with uncertainty. This will resonate with anyone who has experienced diagnostic difficulties.”
“Smartly conceived and well written. . . . An excellent book.”
“In Elizabeth Silver’s masterful hands, suffering creates poetry. She draws upon MRI scans, Greek mythology, and the history of medicine to tell the story of her infant daughter’s brain bleed, and the resulting meditation on trauma, memory, and time is one of the most riveting stories of illness that I’ve ever read. This is an unforgettable book.”
—Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire
“The Tincture of Time delivers two remarkable books for the price of one: an honest, raw, exquisitely written narrative and an astute yet deeply compassionate investigation of the practice of medicine. It’s a book for anyone who’s ever grappled with the inescapable uncertainty of life—that is to say, it’s a book for everyone. Simply put, I was blown away.”
—Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life
“It’s nearly impossible to put The Tincture of Time down. Elizabeth L. Silver’s brilliant memoir burns from page to page, teaching the reader as much about the fragility of life as it does the power of love.”
—Christa Parravani, author of Her
“The Tincture of Time is at once a medical mystery and an affecting meditation on how to live without certainty. Elizabeth L. Silver has written a compelling account of a mother’s worst nightmare with grace, intelligence, and love.”
—Jill Bialosky, author of History of a Suicide
“The Tincture of Time is just the kind of memoir this world desperately needs. In precise and powerful language, Elizabeth Silver uses her deeply singular experience to shed light on universal issues of wellness, health, the body, healing, and trust. She shines her bright, generous intellect into the deepest reaches of her own heart, and into the heart of every reader. This book will change you, teach you, move you. Read it.”
—Emily Rapp, author of The Still Point of the Turning World
About the Author
Elizabeth L. Silver is the author of the novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, which was published in seven languages. Her writing has been published in McSweeney’s, The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, The Millions, and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, the MA Programme in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in England, and Temple University, Beasley School of Law, Silver has worked as an attorney in Texas and California and as an adjunct instructor of English literature and composition at Drexel and St. Joseph's Universities. She lives with her family in Los Angeles.
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"The Tincture of Time" is "an amalgamation of how [Silver] coped with Abby's hospitalization and rehabilitation." She emphasizes how difficult it is to wait for information—"the answers were comforting, available, and effortlessly clear, until they were not." She received insensitive, albeit, well-meaning advice, and stood by, exhausted and wrung out, while her precious child was prodded and probed in the Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit.
Although this is an affecting and poignant memoir, it requires quite a bit of patience, since the author goes off on a number of tangents that are loosely tied to her central themes. She writes about the Malaysia Airlines disaster; unreliability of eyewitness testimony; the groundbreaking ideas of such luminaries as Hippocrates, Heisenberg, and Montessori; and whether medicine is an art, science, or both. Furthermore, she touches on her childhood; work as a lawyer and novelist; questions of faith and religion; and how she and Amir stayed sane while they were sick with worry. Mothers and fathers who undergo similar ordeals will appreciate Elizabeth Silver's perceptive observations. She expresses—using lyrical prose and literary references--the agony of distraught parents whose children struggle with serious illnesses and face an uncertain future.
While the book is based around little Abby’s medical problems, it’s about a lot more than that. It includes the history of how fever has been interpreted and treated since the ancient Greeks, Silver’s husband’s scare of an arachnoid cyst (a thing in his brain that’s harmless but looks terrible on a scan), how her sister-in-law organized 40 women to bake challah and chant prayers to have Abby cured, and much more. It’s also about how Silver is surrounded by doctors (her father, her sister, her husband) and so is right at home with medical stuff- her father, lacking a baby sitter one day when called in to do an emergency appendectomy, took 10 year old Silver to the hospital with him and then, since the nurses couldn’t provide child care, scrubbed her up and took her into the operating room with him- and how her faith in medical science is eroded by its inability to do something to help her daughter. It’s about how three different social workers came in and questioned them mercilessly as to whether one of them had abused, hit, or dropped Abby. It’s about how the fear that a medical problem- especially one that no one ever found out the reason for, and that had no ‘cure’ other than time- never really goes away. She likens, for a while, the mystery and the waiting of Abby’s disease to the disappearance of the Malaysian jet liner that had just vanished over the ocean; she feels like one of the loved ones, waiting on the ground for news, any news.
It’s an interesting story, but I felt the author wandered too much. I think perhaps the author was doing it to show how her mind wandered during the endless waiting, but it doesn’t help the narrative. The bit about fever was, perhaps, useful in the section when Abby runs a fever. The bit about the Wild Boy of Avignon less so, as is stuff about Shakespeare and quantum physics. The Malaysian jetliner is a great metaphor. I know the book originally started as an essay and an editor talked the author into expanding it into a book; I think perhaps it should have stayed a long essay. Four stars out of five.
For a much more enjoyable and emotionally compelling NICU memoir, allow me to recommend "Half Baked" by Alexa Stevenson. Stevenson's unpretentious candor and wry wit, as well as her obvious adoration for her babies make her instantly likable on the page, the complete opposite of Silver's ice-cold self-absorbed preening.