You think, „memoir“ equals either boring or so extraordinary that no mortal could identify him/herself with that person? Well, think again, or rather read Alicia Coppola’s book „Gracefully Gone“. It’s the fusion of two journals: her father’s, Matthew L. Coppola Sr. and her own, linked by his fight against brain cancer.
It’s a situation almost everybody can relate to. Lucky people, who haven’t lost a loved one to a disease, be it cancer, Alzheimer’s or any other life-changing and -taking illness! But even then, it is possible to feel for the 12 year old girl who tries to belong while her emotional vulnerability – having to deal with the fear of losing her father – makes her “a gazelle with a twisted ankle lying just outside a lion’s den” (p. 37). Or with the teenager who is desperately trying to find an anchor. Or, of course, the young woman of 22 years, who tends to her father in the final five months of his life, torn between nerve-wracking dreams and most precious moments like a father’s smile, that keep one going in such a situation which would consume everybody, let alone a young adult who already lost her childhood to the impending loss. As Alicia puts it: “Today was a hard one: A good one because I got to spend all day with my father but a hard one because I got to spend all day with my father.” (p. 121).
“Gracefully Gone” is split in four parts, the memories of her father, which are interspersed throughout the book, her own recalling the years from 1980 (when he was diagnosed with brain cancer) to August 1990, her journal from August 1990 to January 1991, and an epilogue 2013.
While reading this book, I partly felt like watching a movie, or reading a novel and I had to remind myself that it is in fact a true story. Not because it’s so unreal – it isn’t, as I stated above – but because it’s written in such a nonchalant, direct, non-artificial way, that it was as easy and entertaining to read as a novel should be. It made me not want to lay the book aside until I finished it. Although the whole situation is, of course, sad and partly tragic – you probably will cry, at least once! – , this book is far from being a tragedy. Be prepared to burst out laughing because of a funny turn you weren’t expecting, a phrasing that puts sassy teenage Alicia right in front of your mind’s eye, or because of dry wit shining forth. Something will make you laugh or smile even in the chapters about the gravest and most sorrowful times (to pick just one cue: nickname; p. 130).
One cannot possible miss that Alicia has written this book from her heart. Her love for her father shines out of and stands strongly behind every page. The honesty and depth of emotion in “Gracefully Gone” will certainly touch your heart.
So if you don’t own the book yet, you should get it immediately – btw: it’s Christmas soon, so if you’re still looking for a gift for a friend or for something to put onto your wish list, here’s a suggestion ;))