Book Review of MORTALITY by Christopher Hitchens

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3:31 PM
 “In whatever kind of a “race” life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist.”
The book Mortality by Christopher Hitchens was a sober read, to say the least.  
In typical Hitchens style, it was brilliantly written and riveting in it's honesty.    We "listen in" as a man grapples with the process of dying from Stage 4 Esophageal cancer.   


 
Christopher Hitchens Quote
  Last week, I happened to mention to a friend what book I was reading.  I suspected what I immediately heard.  "Ugh!  Why would anyone want to read a book so depressing as that?"   We dropped the subject and moved on to something more acceptable, but trivial.

The fact is, that I want to know what emotions a person feels when they know they are dying.  I dare say that friends, married couples and family members often go their whole lives without even broaching the subject with one another.   Yet it is a battle we will all go through and eventually lose. 

Starting with the first page, Hitchens describes how he suddenly finds himself being deported  "from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady."  He then calls it Tumorville.

Some of the passages were so stark that I found myself physically flinching and drawing  back with empathy...
  • "the word “metastasized” was the one in the report that first caught my eye, and ear. The alien had colonized a bit of my lung as well as quite a bit of my lymph node. And its original base of operations was located in my esophagus." 
  • "On the less good days, I feel like that wooden-legged piglet belonging to a sadistically sentimental family that could bear to eat him only a chunk at a time."
  • "Most despond-inducing and alarming of all, so far, was the moment when my voice suddenly rose to a childish (or perhaps piglet-like) piping squeak. It then began to register all over the place, from a gruff and husky whisper to a papery, plaintive bleat. And at times it threatened, and now threatens daily, to disappear altogether. I had just returned from giving a couple of speeches in California, when I made an attempt to hail a taxi outside my home—and nothing happened. I stood, frozen, like a silly cat that had abruptly lost its meow. "


The paragraph where I heard Hitchens voice come through so vividly is when he comments on the quote by T.S. Eliot, "I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, and I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, and in short, I was afraid."
He states, "Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down.
The book is a short read and at the end, I found myself feeling less afraid of death, than more.  I have to agree with the review by the San Francisco Chronicle.  "To the end, Hitchens produces sentences of startling beauty and precision.  One of our best is gone, yet Mortality is a powerful and moving final utterance."

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