A memoir of reinvention after a stroke at age thirty-three.
Christine Hyung-Oak Lee woke up with a headache on the morning of December 31, 2006. By that afternoon, she saw the world—quite literally—upside down. By New Year’s Day, she was unable to form a coherent sentence. And after hours in the ER, days in the hospital, and multiple questions and tests, her doctors informed her that she had had a stroke.
For months afterward, Lee outsourced her memories to a journal, taking diligent notes to compensate for the thoughts she could no longer hold on to. It is from these notes that she has constructed this frank and compelling memoir.
In a precise and captivating narrative, Lee navigates fearlessly between chronologies, weaving her childhood humiliations and joys together with the story of the early days of her marriage; and then later, in painstaking, painful, and unflinching detail, the account of her stroke and every upset—temporary or permanent—that it caused.
Lee illuminates the connection between memory and identity in an honest, meditative, and truly funny manner, utterly devoid of self-pity. And as she recovers, she begins to realize that this unexpected and devastating event has provided a catalyst for coming to terms with her true self—and, in a way, has allowed her to become the person she’s always wanted to be.
I can’t recall ever reading a memoir, and since recollection is the main theme of this novel that is an ironic statement. I braved the bestsellers section of my library and found this book, and was pleasantly surprised with what I found. This is a memoir featuring an individual who doesn’t remember the event in question; her stroke.
Lee tells an interesting tale of self-discovery and learning through the mounting difficulty of having to rebuild herself from the ground up after a stroke at age 33 What I liked so much about this book was the reflection on what brought her to this point, a hole in her heart physically and emotionally, that she did not recognize and treat until after the unthinkable happened. By surviving these trials, rebuilding her ability to form short-term and long-term memories, and navigating life again after forgetting how to do daily tasks and be the person she was before Lee reveals that she could emerge triumphant. The experience completely altered who she was and is as a person, forcing her to rethink and learn how to care for and prioritize herself in ways she had never considered.
As someone who is currently navigating how best to care and better oneself I was happy to root for Lee throughout her journey. It was inspiring to see someone lose their entire self, a terrifying thought, and create someone better from nothing. It was also nice to break from my usual readings to experience a new story and way of telling. My inner English major also appreciated Lee’s references to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Since I’ve read the book it brought an appreciation to her writing style, which utilized Vonnegut’s own choppy storytelling with her own twist, and the extended metaphor of her own experience in comparison with Vonnegut and Billy Pilgrim, the main protagonist of Slaughterhouse.
In my experience as a reader I’ve found that books have a way of finding you when you need to read them. This is one that would not have fit into my life any better than it has now, so I’m thankful to have found it peeking out from the bestsellers and would certainly recommend it.