Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions.
This book is about books, it’s about dying, and it’s about building a relationship. Will uses books to connect with his Mum. Sometimes they just choose books which they enjoy, but other times books are used to communicate with each other. Some things can be said so much more easily in words.
Mary Anne has a great belief in the power of words. She knows books which explain what she has seen during her work for international charities much better than she can see herself explaining. The books are also used for her a lot of the time as an opening to a wider topic. One of the last things she wants to do before she dies is to see the project she has been working on come to fruitation- that is the building of a library in Kabul, I think that says a lot about what she believes about the power of words.
There was something very admirable about Mary Anne. She had spent most of her adult life going to dangerous places, most notably Afghanistan, to help others, she’d been shot at, she’s caught diseases, she’s seen people in great suffering, but she’s not given up. Even when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer she has no self pity. She just worries that she won’t be able to do everything she wanted to do. She still says she is lucky in comparison to others. She is suffering, but she doesn’t complain and keeps trying to do everything she did before.
The book is really one which makes you pause and think, and it added a few books to my ever increasing wishlist. However I did find it was dragging a little in the middle, so if you can cope with two books at a time I’d recommend having something else on the go too (for me it was Dearly Devoted Dexter, which is about as far from this book as you can get!).
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