Survival Lessons: book review

survival lessons

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman. Publisher: Algonquin (October 2013). Memoir. Hardcover. 96 pages. ISBN 978-1-61620-314-6.

“In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other.”

Survival Lessons isn’t a memoir but a manual for surviving illness and grief. Alice Hoffman said that it took her 15 years to write this little book. When she had breast cancer 15 years ago she read lots of books but found they lacked what she needed and wrote this one to help others who find themselves in the same situation she found herself in. Hoffman begins each section with “Choose” as in “Choose Your Heroes” or “Choose Your Friends” or “Choose to Make Things Beautiful.” I didn’t adore it and felt that some aspects seemed rather obvious. Wouldn’t you do what you wanted to do—eat chocolate, watch movies, read tons of books, and learn to do something you’ve always wanted to try? Some of the other advice she gives—choose your friends and forgive, for instance—I feel I’ve read before in similar tomes. She includes details about her writing career and her family, making this a special little book. Only strong writers can make a major impact in such a concise manner.

“We are all responsible for our actions, and our reactions. We are responsible for how we respond to situations we cannot control. I could not run away from my circumstances, or control the path of my disease, but I could control what I did with my experience of that illness.”

This is Alice Hoffman’s first work of nonfiction. She’s written 21 novels, eight children’s books and three story collections in her 40 year writing career. Hoffman’s advance for Survival Lessons will be donated to the Hoffman Breast Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin Books.

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