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Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir

by

Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir Cover

ISBN13: 9780743299466
ISBN10: 0743299469
All Product Details

 

Review-A-Day

"Swimming in a Sea of Death, Rieff's memoir of the last, excruciatingly painful months of his mother's life, is as riveting as it is unremittingly harrowing. In those months, Sontag swung between despair and stubborn hope....The irony isn't lost on Rieff that his mother, a resolute atheist, had an almost religious belief in the always onward and upward progress of scientific research." Brigitte Frase, Star-Tribune (read the entire Star-Tribune review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Both a memoir and an investigation, Swimming in a Sea of Death is David Rieff's loving tribute to his mother, the writer Susan Sontag, and her final battle with cancer. Rieff's brave, passionate, and unsparing witness of the last nine months of her life, from her initial diagnosis to her death, is both an intensely personal portrait of the relationship between a mother and a son, and a reflection on what it is like to try to help someone gravely ill in her fight to go on living and, when the time comes, to die with dignity.

Rieff offers no easy answers. Instead, his intensely personal book is a meditation on what it means to confront death in our culture. In his most profound work, this brilliant writer confronts the blunt feelings of the survivor — the guilt, the self-questioning, the sense of not having done enough.

And he tries to understand what it means to desire so desperately, as his mother did to the end of her life, to try almost anything in order to go on living.

Drawing on his mother's heroic struggle, paying tribute to her doctors' ingenuity and faithfulness, and determined to tell what happened to them all, Swimming in a Sea of Death subtly draws wider lessons that will be of value to others when they find themselves in the same situation.

Review:

"At age 70, Susan Sontag was diagnosed with a virulent form of blood cancer, her third bout with cancer over the course of 30 years and one she would not win. Her son, journalist Rieff (At the Point of a Gun), accompanied her through her final illness and death, and offers an extraordinarily open, moving account of the trial and journey. Sontag's 'avidity' for life had prompted her to beat the advanced breast cancer that devastated her in 1975; she now resolved to fight the statistical odds of dying from myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), despite the pessimistic prognosis from doctors. Rieff, who admits he was not close to his mother over the preceding decade, is silenced by Sontag's refusal to reconcile herself to dying and unable to console her. Both mother and son are by turns angered by doctors' infantilizing treatment of terminally ill patients and by their squelching of hope. Anxious, chronically unhappy and obsessed with gathering information about her disease, Sontag was unable to be alone, and Rieff becomes one in a circle of devotees who rotate staying with her at her New York City apartment. A doctor is found who does not believe her case is hopeless, and in Seattle she undergoes a bone-marrow transplant. In this sea of death, Sontag took her son with her — conflicted, wracked, but wrenchingly candid, Rieff attempts to swim out." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"The title of David Rieff's new book is grim but apt. Three years after his mother, Susan Sontag, died, Rieff remains deeply immersed in her last illness: its momentum, its personalities, even its language. In 2004, Sontag was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a deadly form of leukemia. She chose to fight the disease with radical treatment, having successfully battled earlier bouts of breast... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"What is shocking about the memoir is how ordinary Sontag seems....For a writer who voluntarily embarks on a memoir about his mother, Rieff is curiously silent on the subject of their relationship, but the contrast in styles speaks for itself." New York Times

Review:

"Ultimately, this book presents a son trying to understand his mother's life and death and needing validation that, in the end, he did the right thing. Highly recommended." Library Journal

Review:

"A beautifully formed and philosophically probing memoir of an all-out fight for life and a sons love for his mother, and a deeply moving tribute to a world-altering writer." Booklist

Review:

"Susan Sontag was fiercely, exuberantly alive, and uncompromising in her life no less than her work. David Rieff's fine, tender, and unflinching portrait of her final illness brings home her absolute determination to survive to the last — to survive against the odds and live creatively despite a devastating disease and an unproven cancer treatment. At once a report from the frontlines of experimental oncology and a moving, absorbing personal account of his mother's last illness, Swimming in a Sea of Death is a courageous and darkly beautiful book." Oliver Sacks

Review:

"Rieff, who admits that he fears dying, writes thoughtfully about a child's duties in the time of dying. A useful handbook of a sort, as well as a concluding chapter to his mother's life." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Watching Sontag die from a distance here, seeing her strategize, strategize against the dying of the light, is to be reminded of what made her so impressive....Sontag's admirers will appreciate the son's many sharp insights into his mother." Philadelphia Inquirer

Review:

"[Rieff] brings a certain amount of literary confidence to the writing table....[An] intelligent, provocative memoir." Newsday

Review:

"Rieff's memoir of the last, excruciatingly painful months of his mother's life, is as riveting as it is unremittingly harrowing." Minneapolis Star Tribune

Review:

"[T]here is the sadness at the heart of Rieff's testimony: that mothers die, as fathers do, regardless of what they or their children believe or disbelieve. It is our humanity that makes us mortal, not our creeds or their antitheses." Los Angeles Times

Synopsis:

Both a memoir and an investigation, Rieff's tribute to his mother — writer Susan Sontag — explores her final battle with cancer and looks at the state of medical science and leading cancer physicians who combine treating patients with pursuing the cutting edge of research.

About the Author

David Rieff is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of seven previous books, including the acclaimed At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention; A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis; and Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West. He lives in New York City.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Grady Harp, February 27, 2008 (view all comments by Grady Harp)
'She was entitled to die her own death.'

Memoirs written after the death of a loved one can either be elegies radiant with poetic inspiration or they can be self-serving eulogies. David Rieff, a thoughtful and intelligent writer, happens to be the son of Susan Sontag, one of America's most brilliant authors and essayists, a woman of great courage with the gift of exploring concepts of our society that she found in need of our attention while at the same time a being novelist able to spin meaningful tales about the indomitable human spirit. SWIMMING IN A SEA OF DEATH: A SON'S MEMOIR is far more than a rehash of an artist's life and exit from life: this book is a work of sensitive evaluation of not only a great woman but also of the myriad aspects of our healthcare system, both good and bad, and the delicate yet coarsely bumpy path that begins with the diagnosis of a terminal disease and ends with the sigh that completes mortality. From this book we learn not only the trials of Susan Sontag's battle with three attacks of cancer (breast cancer in 1975 with radical surgery and chemotherapy, uterine sarcoma in 1998, and Myelodysplastic Syndrome in 2004), but we also learn about the relationship of a son and mother and the challenges to each in coping with threatening diseases and ultimately death.

What makes this 'memoir' so different is the frank honesty of the author David Rieff. He reflects on the avid love for living that ruled Sontag's life, her refusal to give in when she felt that fighting the odds was better than the alternative of doing nothing. Rieff took on the role of supporting his mother's belief that all of the chemotherapy, mutilating surgery, radiation, bone marrow transplantation - all accompanied by severe physical and psychological pain - was worth the effort if the methods of attacking the disease process held any degree of hope of remission. It is a lesson for all of us who have dealt or are dealing with being there for loved ones who face medical decisions, times when the patient needs the support of those who care and are willing to accept the fact that the patient is very much alive - until life is no longer an option.

The reader comes away from this book with a profound respect for the spirit of Susan Sontag, the courage of her various physicians who respected her participation in her decisions, and the quiet and gentle love of a son who can now see the giant who was his mother as he passes her grave in Paris. Toward the end of this book Rieff quotes form Sontag's journals: '"I write the way I live and my life is full of quotations." Then she adds: "Change it." But she never did.' This memoir is an Elegy. Highly recommended reading.

Grady Harp
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(12 of 14 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780743299466
Subtitle:
A Son's Memoir
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Author:
Rieff, David
Subject:
Death, Grief, Bereavement
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Mothers and sons
Subject:
Authors, American
Subject:
Authors, American -- 20th century.
Subject:
Cancer -- Patients.
Edition Description:
S&s Hdcvr
Publication Date:
January 2008
Binding:
Hardcover
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
180
Dimensions:
8 x 5.25 in

Related Subjects

Biography » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Death and Dying

Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 180 pages Simon & Schuster - English 9780743299466 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "At age 70, Susan Sontag was diagnosed with a virulent form of blood cancer, her third bout with cancer over the course of 30 years and one she would not win. Her son, journalist Rieff (At the Point of a Gun), accompanied her through her final illness and death, and offers an extraordinarily open, moving account of the trial and journey. Sontag's 'avidity' for life had prompted her to beat the advanced breast cancer that devastated her in 1975; she now resolved to fight the statistical odds of dying from myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), despite the pessimistic prognosis from doctors. Rieff, who admits he was not close to his mother over the preceding decade, is silenced by Sontag's refusal to reconcile herself to dying and unable to console her. Both mother and son are by turns angered by doctors' infantilizing treatment of terminally ill patients and by their squelching of hope. Anxious, chronically unhappy and obsessed with gathering information about her disease, Sontag was unable to be alone, and Rieff becomes one in a circle of devotees who rotate staying with her at her New York City apartment. A doctor is found who does not believe her case is hopeless, and in Seattle she undergoes a bone-marrow transplant. In this sea of death, Sontag took her son with her — conflicted, wracked, but wrenchingly candid, Rieff attempts to swim out." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Swimming in a Sea of Death, Rieff's memoir of the last, excruciatingly painful months of his mother's life, is as riveting as it is unremittingly harrowing. In those months, Sontag swung between despair and stubborn hope....The irony isn't lost on Rieff that his mother, a resolute atheist, had an almost religious belief in the always onward and upward progress of scientific research." (read the entire Star-Tribune review)
"Review" by , "What is shocking about the memoir is how ordinary Sontag seems....For a writer who voluntarily embarks on a memoir about his mother, Rieff is curiously silent on the subject of their relationship, but the contrast in styles speaks for itself."
"Review" by , "Ultimately, this book presents a son trying to understand his mother's life and death and needing validation that, in the end, he did the right thing. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "A beautifully formed and philosophically probing memoir of an all-out fight for life and a sons love for his mother, and a deeply moving tribute to a world-altering writer."
"Review" by , "Susan Sontag was fiercely, exuberantly alive, and uncompromising in her life no less than her work. David Rieff's fine, tender, and unflinching portrait of her final illness brings home her absolute determination to survive to the last — to survive against the odds and live creatively despite a devastating disease and an unproven cancer treatment. At once a report from the frontlines of experimental oncology and a moving, absorbing personal account of his mother's last illness, Swimming in a Sea of Death is a courageous and darkly beautiful book."
"Review" by , "Rieff, who admits that he fears dying, writes thoughtfully about a child's duties in the time of dying. A useful handbook of a sort, as well as a concluding chapter to his mother's life."
"Review" by , "Watching Sontag die from a distance here, seeing her strategize, strategize against the dying of the light, is to be reminded of what made her so impressive....Sontag's admirers will appreciate the son's many sharp insights into his mother."
"Review" by , "[Rieff] brings a certain amount of literary confidence to the writing table....[An] intelligent, provocative memoir."
"Review" by , "Rieff's memoir of the last, excruciatingly painful months of his mother's life, is as riveting as it is unremittingly harrowing."
"Review" by , "[T]here is the sadness at the heart of Rieff's testimony: that mothers die, as fathers do, regardless of what they or their children believe or disbelieve. It is our humanity that makes us mortal, not our creeds or their antitheses."
"Synopsis" by , Both a memoir and an investigation, Rieff's tribute to his mother — writer Susan Sontag — explores her final battle with cancer and looks at the state of medical science and leading cancer physicians who combine treating patients with pursuing the cutting edge of research.
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