A long time ago a friend recommended to a woman from Hachette Book Group that I be sent a copy of Elizabeth Alexander’s book. I remember being so excited when it arrived in the mail, but as is often the case reading kept slipping off of my to-do (to-enjoy) list, replaced instead by laundry, work research, or sleep.
It sat on my nightstand as a beacon of my inability to end the day with time left for me, until my mom came to visit. She was barely in the door when I said, “Here, I want you to give this book a try, I think you might like it.” She smiled, tired from the cross-country trip, but always game for a book.
“Thanks,” she said before hugging me. The next morning she said, “That book. Oh, it’s such a gift. Thank you.” She posted about it on Facebook and carried it with her as she left for leaf-peeping trips in Maine and New Hampshire. One night I said, “Would you consider reviewing it, or at least writing a little something up so that I can share it on my blog?”
“Sure, give me a few days,” she said. About 24 hours later she sent me two emails, the first a short review, the second a classic example of my mom’s doodling. For as long as I can remember, she’s drawn on things and her way of lettering and coloring always feels like home to me.
Here, in her words and images, the experience of reading The Light of the World.
From the first words of The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander pulled me into her life, her home and the last day of magical Ficre Ghebreyesus’ life. To set the stage she describes two births, one in Eritrea, Africa and one in Harlem, his mother and hers, a few months apart in 1962. So begins what is less a memoir and more a rich cultural tale.
Certainly a beautiful love story, and an elegy of loss, it is far more a resounding celebration of life, and creativity, and the miracle of finding your person. The book is a marvel. A marvel of Alexander’s prowess with words as a poetess. Their colorful home, garden, reverence for friends, and love of food gives us intense visitation with Ficre, in his hot pink shirt, father, lover, friend, linguist. Making art with unending urgency (and utter disregard for selling them) and cooking with his soul his restaurant Caffe Adulis.
She reminds me to revisit the poet Rilke’s philosophy of “befriending death in order to live more fully.” She reminds me to read more Anne Lamott (Small Victories) and “spot improbable moments of Grace”.
A lovely companion to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Alexander quests, as I do, to find where the soul goes after death. One of my favorite (of many!) parts of this book is her son Simon’s offer to her to go with him to see dad, after his death. And this beautiful child’s description of heaven and how he gets there to see his beloved dad.
Her beautiful prose, loveliest read aloud, takes us on a journey of love and loss — an “exaltation and lamentation, simultaneous.”
Love story, memoir, cultural guide, cook book, “how-to-live guide” is a book to savor word by word.