Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award
"A testament to the power of creativity in language, life—and love." —Heller McAlpin, Washington Post
It is a truism that lovers have their own language. And the love story—extending over more than forty years—of acclaimed writers Diane Ackerman and Paul West is equally a story of the love of language and its mysteries. In this heart-warming, uplifting memoir, Ackerman explores the brain’s ability to find and connect words—and of the latest science behind what happens when it fails to do so. Exposing both the terror of losing language and the giddy exhilaration of its recovery, Ackerman opens a window into the experience of wordlessness and testifies to the joyous necessity of wordplay for the health of both mind and spirit.
Two phrasemakers and longtime married partners had to relearn a shared, intimate conversation post-stroke as Ackerman narrates in her touching latest work. Paul West, Ackerman's 75-year-old British husband (she is 18 years younger), was a retired English professor and the author of 50-plus books, survivor of diabetes and a pacemaker, when he was struck by a massive stroke that left "a small wasteland" in his brain, especially in the key language areas. For literary minds like West and Ackerman, his inability to formulate language (reduced to repeating numbly the sounds "mem, mem, mem" in anger and confusion) was a shock to them both: "o be so godlike, and yet so fragile," his wife writes in despair. Her memoir of this terrible time, first in the hospital, then at home, records the small victories in his speech making and numerous frustrating setbacks; she even took it upon herself to make up humorous but challenging exercises for him to do, Mad Libs style. Contrary to the bleak prognosis, West gradually made progress, while their journey makes for goofy, pun-happy reading, a little like overhearing lovers coo to each other.