In this week's review roundup, we pay special attention to the books overlooked this month. Though not as popular as their spotlit counterparts, the two books below deserve as much praise for their brave subject matter and compelling narratives as any major bestseller. It's time to step off Broadway and revel in the under-appreciated.
"Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer," by Susan Gubar
To know the term "debulking" is to suggest that you or someone close to you might have undergone its terrible definition. Susan Gubar, author of "Memoirs of a Debulked Woman," knows it all too well and explains its meaning with characteristic calmness: "Think of debulking as evisceration or vivisection or disemboweling, but performed on a live human being." In other words, it's the process of removing cancerous tissue for patients with advanced ovarian cancer. In November, 2008 debulking became Susan Gubar's life motif. Suddenly disarmed, Gubar began to grapple with her diagnosis by writing about its presence in her everyday life. Thus, debulking is also the motif that carries the reader through this beautiful, symbol-driven memoir.
"Struggling through treatment," writes Elsa Dixler of The New York Times, "she layers on socks and sweaters, 'bulking up,' though 'the freezing cold seeps into my heart.' The friends who visit after the operation brim with 'attachments to the bulky world of parents and children.' Bulk is mass, presence, life; 'debulked' is 'an ugly adjective' and an ugly reality." Dixler adds: "I don’t know Susan Gubar, but the intimacy of her presentation makes me feel as though I do." And she isn't the only one. NPR is also gripped by the "graphic honesty" of Gubar's writing style, and Liz Szabo of USA Today calls Gubar's memoir a "brutally honest depiction of side-effects and complications," likely due to Gubar's frustration after finding "so few memoirs of ovarian cancer patients." Equally affected by the power and pose of Gubar's story is The Boston Globe's Kate Tuttle: "In this brave, honest book, Gubar grapples with the reality and symbolism of cancer and its often inhumane treatment, invoking literary and artistic works as touchstones for understanding how it feels to be 'dying without death; living without life.'"
"Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup," by Christopher de Bellaigue
"'Patriot of Persia' seems to me to break new ground in Iranian biography, and is sure to find readers in Iran," writes James Buchanan of The Guardian. The biography in question is author Christopher de Bellaigue's attempt at righting the record of former Iranian prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. If readers across the globe are more likely to pick this book up, we tip our hats to de Bellaigue. In some ways, the glacial pace of conflict resolution can be a good thing for people outside of government. This is because we are constantly treated to deeper explorations of crises via books like deBellaigue's that serve to educate and enlighten. Ideally, these are the types of books that propel the wheel of time forward towards progress and understanding, perhaps resolving forms of conflict in their own right.
Buchanan goes on to say how Mohammed Mossadegh has been labeled a savior of Iran by some, and a rich, fanatical Anglophobe by others. But de Ballaigue's story, by all accounts, is a balanced one. "Christopher de Bellaigue's new life of Mossadegh adopts the first attitude [the savior], while showing enough of the second to provide balance and variety." Roger Howard of The Independent agrees, noting how "Christopher de Bellaigue's superbly timed biography of Iran's former prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, helps us" to "examine Iran's national history...A Persian scholar who has lived in Iran for more than a decade, he has combed through archive material to add to the existing literature about Mossadeq and his defining act - the nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951." Sohrab Ahmari of The Wall Street Journal takes a more sobering tack. Though this book finds a well-regarded home in the revisionist canon on Iran, "if there is a lesson to be drawn from this otherwise compelling biography, it is that to find freedom, Iranians must begin taking credit for having authored their own tragedy."