Monday , April 22 2024
Each essay explores what it means to be alive, and feel. In the aggregate, the essays provide over 400 pages of the best reading today. Throughout, we are reminded that both beauty and loss can help us remain whole.

Book Review: ‘Love and Other Ways of Dying’ by Michael Paterniti

Michael PaternitiMichael Paterniti is one of the most original and empathetic storytellers working today. His writing has been described as “humane, devastating, and beautiful” by Elizabeth Gilbert, “spellbinding” by Anthony Doerr, and “expansive and joyful” by George Saunders. In the seventeen wide-ranging essays collected for the first time in Love and Other Ways of Dying, he brings his full literary powers to bear, pondering happiness and grief, memory, and the redemptive power of human connection.

Paterniti has spent the past two decades grappling with some of our most powerful subjects and incomprehensible events, taking an unflinching point of view that seeks to edify as it resists easy answers. At every turn, his work attempts to make sense of both love and loss, and leaves us with a profound sense of what it means to be human. As he writes in the Introduction to this book, “The more we examine the grooves and scars of this life, the more free and complete we become.”

In Love and Other Ways of Dying, we are rewarded with seventeen essays written over two decades. Each explores what it means to be alive and feel. In the aggregate, the essays provide over 400 pages of the best reading today. Throughout, we are reminded that both beauty and loss can help us remain whole.

Beginning with fond memories of childhood pleasure amid toys and a vast imagination, Paterniti considers the realization that there must be a day when we “play” for the last time, with no goodbye to what we leave behind in that youthful phase of life.

Powerful writing gives us a riveting portrayal of an international flight crash, and an essay on food worthy of Paterniti crossing six time zones for such a meal. The simplicity of the story belies the food served by a famous chef.

Every essay in Paterniti’s collection draws the reader in, with the human scale he puts on the face of a story, such as “The Giant,” where he  shows us how he gets inside a story and takes us along as he figures out the meaning of the experience. When Paterniti learns of a young giant in Ukraine, he considers the difficulties the giant must have. Soon, he finds himself heading to the airport for a flight to meet the man in Ukraine, and upon arrival at the giant’s home we are right there: “He was smiling as he undid the gate, teeth like mah-jongg tiles. He was tall. The top of my head reached only to his elbows. And he was wide. On his own, he was a walking family of four. My hand instinctively shot out, and he hesitated then took it. Hand in hand, mine vanished in his like a small goldfish.”

Many might remember reading about the author’s best-selling Driving Mr. Albert, traveling with Einstein’s brain in his car trunk, while he drives cross-country along with the doctor who performed Einstein’s autopsy. Most recently, Paterniti took storytelling to new heights with The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese.

One of the most dramatic and riveting essays is Paterniti’s writing about a tragic personal experience. He paints a heartfelt picture of what happened when a teenage friend died in an auto accident. The complete picture he paints brings us closer to the victims, families and friends who puzzle through the tragedy in their town, and the author mourns the loss of his best friend.

Paterniti is an exquisite writer, able to add meaning to our lives, as well as to his own, as we share in his memories, perhaps learning to see and interpret our own lives with greater awareness.

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