In The Country of Illness
by Robert Lipsyte, Alfred A. Knopf, New York
In his new book, In the Country of Illness, author Robert Lipsyte uses the metaphor of a foreign country, one called Malady, to describe the dwelling place for all of us diagnosed with a serious illness. In Mr. Lipsytes case, it was his two bouts of testicular cancer and his ex-wifes breast cancer with eventually resulted in her death.
Although relying on his personal experiences and that of his ex-wife, this book is not merely an autobiographical account of Mr. Lipsytes life with cancer. In fact, a careful reading reveals that throughout its 238 pages, he gives advice and practical instructions for dealing with the denizens of Malady. These are the often cold and seemingly uncaring doctors, nurses, aides, technicians, parking lot attendants and receptionists who hold the keys to this often unwelcoming kingdom. In the final chapter of the book, entitled "Mediquette," Mr. Lipsyte gives specific advice on dealing with the difficult situations we often encounter when negotiating this foreign and frightening "country."
While brutally honest, the book is written with humor, referred to by Mr. Lipsyte as "tumor humor," the black humor used by many patients to make living with cancer more bearable. He talks about "The Dread" that feeling we all experience immediately before we meet with the doctor to hear the results of our tests. A word of caution: this book is not for the faint-hearted. Mr. Lipsytes graphic description of his ex-wifes final battle with breast cancer is difficult to read, but, in my opinion, ultimately worth the effort.
In the final analysis, Mr. Lipsyte has written a fine addition to the body of literature which concerns itself with cancers effect on our lives. I highly recommend it to cancer patients and their families as a unique perspective on the disease in all its ramifications.
Reviewed by Barbara Zierten, San Francisco