Memoirs about ordinary people who endure tragedy and make peace with it
September 16, 2020 3:51 AM   Subscribe

Hello! A friend of mine is looking for memoirs about people who endure some tragic incident -- i.e., terrible car accident, spinal cord injury, etc. (does not have to be physical, but life-changing), then thrives and/or finds a way to make peace with what happened/channel their life in a new way. Probably best if one-off tragedy, rather than years of abuse, for example. Any suggestions?
posted by caoimhe to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
LifeBlood by Gill Fyffe is a memoir by a woman who received a blood transfusion contaminated with Hepatitis C while giving birth in the late 80s. I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying she "made peace" with this, and no government body or manufacturer has accepted liability or paid damages for the contaminated blood scandal in the UK so there's still plenty to be righteously furious about, but there's definitely a strong theme of rebuilding a meaningful life and attempting to thrive after many years when she was experiencing all kinds of disabling symptoms but struggled to get a firm diagnosis.
posted by terretu at 3:55 AM on September 16, 2020

Half a Life by Darin Straus follows the author from his involvement in a fatal car crash through his later teen and adult years. Straus writes well, and the ongoing pain comes through clearly. Although I am not sure he makes peace with the crash and its outcomes, he describes how he lives with the memory.
posted by lasagnaboy at 4:18 AM on September 16, 2020

Joni: An Unforgettable Story by Joni Eareckson Tada is the autobiography of a woman paralyzed by a swimming accident who learns to paint with her mouth, becomes super religious and starts a worldwide ministry, and writes numerous books. I haven't read it since I was 10 so it may be dreadful but it definitely meets your criteria.
posted by HotToddy at 4:35 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Henry Fraser has written a couple of books - he was paralysed from the shoulders down in his late teens and is now an incredible mouth-painter, as well as writing and I think also a public speaker. He’s still only in his 20s but talks a lot about the opportunities and lessons that ended up arising from his accident and subsequent disability. I admit I’ve not read the books but he often posts excerpts on Twitter and they seem interesting and well-written.
posted by penguin pie at 5:20 AM on September 16, 2020

Wondering Who You Are by Sonya Lea. The author's husband loses most of his memories after a surgery. The book talks about their marriage before and after, and the ways they work to rebuild a life together.
posted by papayaninja at 5:27 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dealing with my own mentally ill teenager, I was surprised that one of the most comforting books I read was Sue Klebold's A Mother's Reckoning, about being the parent of one of the Columbine shooters.

Anna Lyndsey's Girl in the Dark is about living with a rare form of seborrhoeic dermatitis that makes her allergic to all light.
posted by Orlop at 5:28 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Two of the best books I've read this year both fit this theme: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, who lost her parents, husband, and children during the tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2004, and Know My Name by Chanel Miller, who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner. Both books are incredibly upsetting and the depiction of sexual assault in Know My Name is extremely triggering if this is a concern.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:34 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

My Last Step Backward by Tasha Schuh, a woman who had a spinal cord injury in high school.
posted by pepper bird at 5:34 AM on September 16, 2020

I Am Malala
posted by argonauta at 5:53 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved by Kate Bowler. Bowler is a professor at the Duke Divinity School who was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. I see one review that complains that her outlook is overly Christian, but I didn't get that sense at all. She has written a book about Christian fundamentalists called Blessed, but she definitely does not follow their beliefs.
posted by FencingGal at 6:19 AM on September 16, 2020

The book 10 Degrees of Reckoning (On my phone, can’t link!)

“In 1993, Judith and Michael Sleavin and their two children set out to sail around the world. Three years into their incredible journey, a nearby freighter altered its course by a mere ten degrees-and everything changed...

After forty-four hours in the icy water clinging to an overturned dinghy, her back broken and paralyzed below the waist, Judith miraculously survived, winding up in a small community on the New Zealand coast. Gripping, unbelievable yet true, Judith's story of courage, survival, and retribution is alternately heartrending and uplifting. It's also a story of unbreakable bonds, of shattering loss, and of one woman reborn through the strength of friendship and the profound love of strangers who became family.”
posted by Sassyfras at 6:43 AM on September 16, 2020

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:55 PM on September 16, 2020

Fictional memoir: Year of Wonders
posted by aniola at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2020

Two memoirs I enjoyed about grieving unexpected deaths: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers and Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman.
posted by zeusianfog at 2:05 PM on September 16, 2020

Penguin Bloom: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved A Family
True story. A balcony collapses; a woman: wife and mother, becomes paralysed. She feels that there is not much to live for. Then a magpie arrives...
posted by Thella at 2:20 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

2nd-ing Know My Name. It's incredibly inspiring. If your friend is into this kind of thing, it also has the advantage of being very zeitgeist-y right now and your friend can probably find other people or events to discuss it with.
posted by tinymegalo at 3:16 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I absolutely loved Match to the Heart by Gretel Erlich. The author survived a severe lightning strike and then slowly began dying, because lightning wasn’t particularly well understood about its effects in the body and her heart was failing. It’s beautifully written and wise.

Seconding Say Her Name.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 5:08 PM on September 16, 2020

Mrs. Mike. It’s not about the tragedy, but the tragedy is part of the growth of the character and she eventually regains her happiness.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:56 PM on September 16, 2020

Nnedi Okorafor’s Broken Places Outer Spaces is a short memoir by the Hugo? Nebula? winning author. Her 99% success/routine surgery failed - the 1% claimed her, and it tracks how she navigated that with her family.
posted by childofTethys at 8:05 PM on September 16, 2020

Not a book, but that is basically the premise of the Terrible, Thanks For Asking podcast. (Actually, the host, Nora McInerny has a couple of books out that might fit the bill.)
posted by missrachael at 8:53 AM on September 17, 2020

A Whole New Life: An Illness and a healing by Reynolds Price.

This is a memoir about his spinal cancer, the surgery and radiation that resulted in paralysis, and the years-long severe pain that doctors had no answers for. It's very much about making peace with what happened and his search for relief from the pain.
posted by daikon at 10:35 AM on September 18, 2020

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