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Tiger's Eye: A Memoir

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Although Australian author Clendinnen is a specialist in ancient Mexican cultures, readers may remember her best for Reading the Holocaust. Here, she turns her historian's eye inward, to make sense of the year when, in her 50s, she was felled by acute liver disease and found that only by writing could she free herself at least psychologically and intellectually from the confines of her hospital bed. Yet Clendinnen does not burden us with a sentimental account of her near-death experience; instead, she carefully explores the root of history, fiction and the self: "Janus-faced" memory. In the course of writing, Clendinnen discovers that her memory is eel-like, selective, inaccurate and biased, despite her best efforts to pin it down. This realization leads her to new insights about historical inquiry and about the porous border delineating fact and fiction. At one point during her recovery, she was unexpectedly interrupted by hallucinations subconscious dreams that weave bits of her own history with fiction so she decided to try her hand at fiction, producing a series of brief, tantalizing characters and situations that deepen this devastatingly beautiful, intricate and wide-ranging work. Ultimately, though her exploration of "I" leads to better self-understanding, Clendinnen chooses not to dwell on herself, but to return to history, "where I began." Aimed at women of a certain age who are taking stock of themselves and the world around them, Clendinnen's book offers a rare and original meditation on the construction of the self. (July) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Illness casts you out, but it also cuts you free." While this insight may be common among those who have been visited by serious illness, rarely is it offered with the eloquence and honesty found in this work. A noted Australian historian and teacher, Clendinnen (Aztecs: An Interpretation; Reading the Holocaust) not only recounts the details of her life-threatening struggle with severe liver disease, but also intersperses them with personal memoir, short fiction, and Australian history in equal doses. This mixture, along with the sharp, insightful humor and lyrical descriptions Clendinnen describes the experience of recuperation as "the slow, lurching waltz of recovery, step forward, step sideways, step together, step" makes this volume much more memorable than the usual account of a brush with death and subsequent return to not-quite normalcy. Highly recommended for both medical and literary memoir collections. Kay Hogan Smith, UAB Lister Hill Lib., Birmingham Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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