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From the acclaimed Emmanuel Carrère, an act of generous imagination that unflinchingly records devastating loss and, equally vividly, the wealth of human solace that follows in its wake In Sri Lanka, a tsunami sweeps a child out to sea, her grand-father helpless against the onrushing water. In France, a young woman succumbs to illness, leaving her husband and small children From the acclaimed Emmanuel Carrère, an act of generous imagination that unflinchingly records devastating loss and, equally vividly, the wealth of human solace that follows in its wake In Sri Lanka, a tsunami sweeps a child out to sea, her grand-father helpless against the onrushing water. In France, a young woman succumbs to illness, leaving her husband and small children bereft. Present at both events, Emmanuel Carrère sets out to tell the story of two families—shattered and ultimately restored. What he accomplishes is nothing short of a literary miracle: a heartrending narrative of endless love, a meditation on courage and decency in the face of adversity, an intimate and reverent look at the extraordinary beauty and nobility of ordinary lives. Precise, sober, and suspenseful, as full of twists and turns as any novel, Lives Other Than My Own confronts terrifying catastrophes to illuminate the astonishing richness of human connection: a grandfather who thought he had found paradise—too soon—and now devotes himself to helping his neighbors rebuild their village; a husband so in love with his ailing wife that he carries her in his arms like a knight does his princess; and finally, Carrère himself, longtime chronicler of the tormented self, who unexpectedly finds consolation and even joy as he immerses himself in the lives of others.


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From the acclaimed Emmanuel Carrère, an act of generous imagination that unflinchingly records devastating loss and, equally vividly, the wealth of human solace that follows in its wake In Sri Lanka, a tsunami sweeps a child out to sea, her grand-father helpless against the onrushing water. In France, a young woman succumbs to illness, leaving her husband and small children From the acclaimed Emmanuel Carrère, an act of generous imagination that unflinchingly records devastating loss and, equally vividly, the wealth of human solace that follows in its wake In Sri Lanka, a tsunami sweeps a child out to sea, her grand-father helpless against the onrushing water. In France, a young woman succumbs to illness, leaving her husband and small children bereft. Present at both events, Emmanuel Carrère sets out to tell the story of two families—shattered and ultimately restored. What he accomplishes is nothing short of a literary miracle: a heartrending narrative of endless love, a meditation on courage and decency in the face of adversity, an intimate and reverent look at the extraordinary beauty and nobility of ordinary lives. Precise, sober, and suspenseful, as full of twists and turns as any novel, Lives Other Than My Own confronts terrifying catastrophes to illuminate the astonishing richness of human connection: a grandfather who thought he had found paradise—too soon—and now devotes himself to helping his neighbors rebuild their village; a husband so in love with his ailing wife that he carries her in his arms like a knight does his princess; and finally, Carrère himself, longtime chronicler of the tormented self, who unexpectedly finds consolation and even joy as he immerses himself in the lives of others.

30 review for Lives Other than My Own: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    Devotees may have noticed that I’ve been reading Carerre this summer – there’s something hypnotic to his styling, a suspense in seeing how his life unfolds. This is a great distillation of his auto-biographical essay form, and the best of his “minor” books, far superior to MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL. As I consider his output since 1999, it seems that he spends years on books about his complex, enigmatic men with his memoir briefly shining through, and then suddenly explodes with a connective tis Devotees may have noticed that I’ve been reading Carerre this summer – there’s something hypnotic to his styling, a suspense in seeing how his life unfolds. This is a great distillation of his auto-biographical essay form, and the best of his “minor” books, far superior to MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL. As I consider his output since 1999, it seems that he spends years on books about his complex, enigmatic men with his memoir briefly shining through, and then suddenly explodes with a connective tissue book that tells his own story. LIVES is not as nasty as the other ones, which says something given that it opens with Carrere contemplating divorce before the horrid tsunami destroys his vacation in Sri Lanka. We immediately veer, with the twists of a great novel, into life and death, as we explore morgues, the reek of corpses, the devastation on the island. A lesser memoirist would not have kept his focus on his own pettiness, his sexual needs. Far from seeming petulant, I found insight in the egoistic idea that he would become closer to his wife once a natural disaster tore the families around him asunder. The other thirds of the work, though less potent than the masterful opening, are similarly canny, as Carrere tracks the life of his sister-of-law, who is dying of cancer, through the eyes of a man who loves her platonically. Both are lawyers, both are physically infirm from childhood illnesses. It is another “weird” coincidence, and one that we believe, and I was again impressed with how frankly he explored how the illness drew him closer to his own wife. I could have done without some intervals of legalese, but these mundanities were really about establishing contrast. One of these stories is a huge crisis, a global trauma; in the other, a sick woman passes on. Both make us think about our own lives, our own loves. I would not start here if you’re interested in Carrere, but it makes a lovely follow-up to THE ADVERSARY.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Exceptionally well written! Two stories - both extremely sad.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    The first third of the book (a description of the aftermath of the tsunami is Sri Lanka and its effects on a family who lost their child) was really compelling, but as soon as the author got into the story of his sister-in-law and her death from cancer, my interest waned. The author's egocentrism and self-congratulation were kind of funny at first, but soon got really, really old. How much can you insert yourself into the story of someone else's death when you barely knew her? And what is the po The first third of the book (a description of the aftermath of the tsunami is Sri Lanka and its effects on a family who lost their child) was really compelling, but as soon as the author got into the story of his sister-in-law and her death from cancer, my interest waned. The author's egocentrism and self-congratulation were kind of funny at first, but soon got really, really old. How much can you insert yourself into the story of someone else's death when you barely knew her? And what is the point of all this? But as the woman who picked this for my book club said, "C'est tres francais. Tres, tres francais." I guess.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    The first fifty pages about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami hitting an idyllic Sri Lankan beach town were riveting, harrowing, incredible reading. So good, so devastating (I don't use that word to describe books that don't actually describe literal devastation like this and create a deeply empathetic/wrecked state in the reader, the sort where you have to put the book down because it's too much). But the rest of it, about two French judges, both with paralyzed legs, one who survived cancer, one who The first fifty pages about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami hitting an idyllic Sri Lankan beach town were riveting, harrowing, incredible reading. So good, so devastating (I don't use that word to describe books that don't actually describe literal devastation like this and create a deeply empathetic/wrecked state in the reader, the sort where you have to put the book down because it's too much). But the rest of it, about two French judges, both with paralyzed legs, one who survived cancer, one who didn't, only had its moments. The parallel between the two stories was clear -- how we respond when the ineluctable forces of nature (waves/cancer) turn against us -- but after a while I wasn't engaged and skimmed to the end. I want to love Carrère but it looks like I won't get much further than admiration with him after trying three of his books (this one, The Mustache, Limonov). Will maybe try another before the year is over -- I like it generally but insufficiently? Also odd that as I read this the news focused on a judge and a tsunami.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This memoir was discussed several times on the New York Times Book Review podcast over the past 6 months or so and seemed to be liked by all the editors. I knew it started with the 2003 tsunami in Indonesia, but I had no idea what came after in the story. Unexpectedly, this became a very personal story for me and I never would have thought I would have much in common with a French male writer. So well-written, I never would have picked this up on my own as grief memoir is not a favorite genre, b This memoir was discussed several times on the New York Times Book Review podcast over the past 6 months or so and seemed to be liked by all the editors. I knew it started with the 2003 tsunami in Indonesia, but I had no idea what came after in the story. Unexpectedly, this became a very personal story for me and I never would have thought I would have much in common with a French male writer. So well-written, I never would have picked this up on my own as grief memoir is not a favorite genre, but this is a book I will keep thinking about for a while.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Jackson

    Experiments in empathy and portraits of overcoming horrific grief. Engagingly written and structured in a slyly sophisticated manner to maximize the emotional impact without devolving into sentimentalism. Recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Something about this book felt slightly different and strange, offbeat, innovative, perhaps just "French"? Carrere simply sets out to tell the stories of a few other human beings whose lives intersected with his own around the mid-2000s. They aren't biographical accounts at all - it reads more like a memoir, although Carrere doesn't divulge all that much about his own life. Another Goodreads reviewer thought the author's egocentrism and self-congratulation were a problem. I disagree and didn't s Something about this book felt slightly different and strange, offbeat, innovative, perhaps just "French"? Carrere simply sets out to tell the stories of a few other human beings whose lives intersected with his own around the mid-2000s. They aren't biographical accounts at all - it reads more like a memoir, although Carrere doesn't divulge all that much about his own life. Another Goodreads reviewer thought the author's egocentrism and self-congratulation were a problem. I disagree and didn't see that, nor thought that he inserted himself into other people's tragedies. Although he does reflect on his reasons for writing, he really sets the accounts - and his peripheral involvement in the lives - before the reader, without guile or self-aggrandizement. Self-consciousness, though, yes, but of the kind that is necessary and without which this book would not make sense. Thoughtful and sobering (not depressing).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Familiar with the phrase 'truth can be stranger than fiction'; here I am left with the feeling that 'truth can be as compelling as fiction'. Emmanuel Carrère was on holiday in Sri Lanka with his girlfriend when the tsunami struck, they had been considering separating and then found themselves in a whirlwind period where the relative significance of these reflections was crushed by that incoming wave and the devastation it wreaked on others. "Everything that has happened in those five days and was Familiar with the phrase 'truth can be stranger than fiction'; here I am left with the feeling that 'truth can be as compelling as fiction'. Emmanuel Carrère was on holiday in Sri Lanka with his girlfriend when the tsunami struck, they had been considering separating and then found themselves in a whirlwind period where the relative significance of these reflections was crushed by that incoming wave and the devastation it wreaked on others. "Everything that has happened in those five days and was ending then, at that precise moment washed over us. A dam opened, releasing a flood of sorrow, relief, love, all mixed together. I hugged Hélène and told her, I don't want to break up anymore, not ever. She said, I don't want to break up anymore either." The couple return to France only to learn that Hélène's sister is on a downward spiral with the return of a cancer that she had thought she was rid of when she was a teenager. Juliette, now in her thirties, is a juge d'instance (a judge of small claims and grievances) and has three girls, the youngest only fifteen months old. Through Juliette, Carrère meets her colleague Etienne, a cancer survivor, who shares with the author an insight into both the world of being a cancer survivor and their realm as judges in the small town of Vienne, where they strive and indeed succeed to make a difference. What makes this recount all the more extraordinary is the sense of the author's narcissism, long time chronicler of the tormented self, he readily admits this and while I wouldn't say that being witness to these events resulted in an absolute cure, it certainly lead him, as the book title suggests, to explore and find some empathy in lives other than his own.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I have only just finished this book and am perhaps reviewing too early as I haven't had time to fully reflect yet. My initial thoughts are that the stories are well written and easy to read. I couldn't put it down at first, the retelling of the tsunami was terrible but gripping. I found it amazing how one side of the road could be untouched while the seaward side was devastated. How lucky was the author and his family to have changed their plans. Unfortunately the writing style and subject matte I have only just finished this book and am perhaps reviewing too early as I haven't had time to fully reflect yet. My initial thoughts are that the stories are well written and easy to read. I couldn't put it down at first, the retelling of the tsunami was terrible but gripping. I found it amazing how one side of the road could be untouched while the seaward side was devastated. How lucky was the author and his family to have changed their plans. Unfortunately the writing style and subject matter ceased to hold my attention in the same way once the focus transferred to his partner's sister. The story felt pretty flat and, after the meeting with Etienne it pretty much went downhill for me. I guess I am not really interested in the French justice system to the depth in which it was often described, and I found myself skim reading. I also didn't much care for his trying to bring the tsunami family back into the story in at attempt to end the book. Having said that, there were certain parts, towards the end, where I had to fight back the tears, and this is definitely due to Carrere's skill as a writer.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    A succession of grief and suffering as seen through two unconnected experiences in the authors life. The Sri Lankan Tsunami leads to the death of a young girl, leaving behind a devastated family left to wonder the question which has no answer: "why us?" The narrative then pivots to terminal diagnosis from cancer of the authors sister in law. Written in the authors voice, the writing is emotive yet chilly - like a journalist reporting on a story than a participant in two tragic events that remind A succession of grief and suffering as seen through two unconnected experiences in the authors life. The Sri Lankan Tsunami leads to the death of a young girl, leaving behind a devastated family left to wonder the question which has no answer: "why us?" The narrative then pivots to terminal diagnosis from cancer of the authors sister in law. Written in the authors voice, the writing is emotive yet chilly - like a journalist reporting on a story than a participant in two tragic events that remind that life is so fragile.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Roney

    This is a strange and lovely book, written in a direct and affecting voice. It doesn't fit neatly into the memoir category because, as the title suggests, it focuses on lives other than the author's own. But it really is like listening to a friend tell stories and plumb his observations for insight, and he never turns away from his own experience as a background to his reactions. I made so many notes in response, as though I were in a conversation contemplating the range of concerns brought toge This is a strange and lovely book, written in a direct and affecting voice. It doesn't fit neatly into the memoir category because, as the title suggests, it focuses on lives other than the author's own. But it really is like listening to a friend tell stories and plumb his observations for insight, and he never turns away from his own experience as a background to his reactions. I made so many notes in response, as though I were in a conversation contemplating the range of concerns brought together in this book--illness, disability, death, love and marriage, parenthood, friendship, work. It might seem as though the concerns range too widely, but they don't, not at all--the way our lives are multi-faceted and intertwined is, I believe, part of the point. Perhaps the most fascinating contrast in the book is that it concerns two very different kinds of deaths--a girl named Juliette who was washed out to sea in a much-known mass death (the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004) and a woman named Juliette who died a short time later of cancer, a completely ordinary (though tragic) and generally unremarked death. It was also striking to me that the book foregrounds both family love (parental, spousal) while paying the deepest respect to friendship. I'm often not interested in nonfiction books that focus on family love, whether spousal (and I do have a lovely spouse) or parental (I have no children); I tend to find them cloying, limited, smug, insular, and false. But this one is different because the adult Juliette's very important friendship and sharing of work with Etienne shows beautifully how multi-dimensional humans are, how, in fact, these layers of being are all crucial to who we are. Adult Juliette had a work life that was very important to her identity, and this is not seen as a conflict with her rich marriage and family life. The author starts the book with the tsunami, then turns the middle of the book to the adult Juliette's life and death. The two seem connected at first simply by the fact that they happen within a few months of each other, that both the deceased are named Juliette, and that Helene, the author's girlfriend, is involved in both. Over the course of the book, though, we start to see more connections as well as contrasts. The child Juliette's death, of course, devastated her parents, who both survived the tsunami. The adult Juliette's death devastated her husband and her three small daughters (the youngest less than two years old). The book ultimately becomes about strategies of survival of trauma and tragedy and how people can help each other do that. This is a truly beautiful, moving book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pauline Van etc.

    I read « D’autres vies que la mienne » because the renowned Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb recommended that book. Despite the fact that the topics he deals with are true and depressing (the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka and a death in the family), I enjoyed the book and liked the human, honest, and touching way Carrère was able to tell the stories of these other lives. The second part of the book was a bit longer and more technical as Carrère gets passionate about the topic of debt burden that involv I read « D’autres vies que la mienne » because the renowned Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb recommended that book. Despite the fact that the topics he deals with are true and depressing (the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka and a death in the family), I enjoyed the book and liked the human, honest, and touching way Carrère was able to tell the stories of these other lives. The second part of the book was a bit longer and more technical as Carrère gets passionate about the topic of debt burden that involves two lawyers but weirdly enough, he manages to make it politically interesting! This is where I think his real talent lies and how to recognise a great writer: in bringing seemingly boring facts to life, and therefore showing the complexity and interest of everyone’s life.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Daria

    2.75 stars, maybe. It's a difficult book to judge; it's written by a novelist who knows what he's doing, and so, although the claim is, "Tout y est vrai," the true stories within are undoubtedly romanticized with the intention of toying with the emotions of the reader. The romanticism - and this book might as well be the ultimate definition of the word; all the unbearable tragedy, all the applauding of the perseverance of the human spirit and the depth of love, and so on and on - is, yes, very w 2.75 stars, maybe. It's a difficult book to judge; it's written by a novelist who knows what he's doing, and so, although the claim is, "Tout y est vrai," the true stories within are undoubtedly romanticized with the intention of toying with the emotions of the reader. The romanticism - and this book might as well be the ultimate definition of the word; all the unbearable tragedy, all the applauding of the perseverance of the human spirit and the depth of love, and so on and on - is, yes, very well done. Carrère knows how to make us go cold and lachrymose all over. The first quarter of the book is morbidly depressing, the last quarter had me choked up (perhaps the last thirty pages did try a little too hard - but, if the intended effect is achieved, who can complain?). The two hundred pages which find themselves in the middle stagnate too much for my liking. We like to say that tragedy is of the everyday, that tragedy is that which occurs nearest to our homes and hearts, but that is not true, I think; tragedy is the lightning strike which crashes, otherworldly and terrifying, abruptly into the middle of our boring, circular lives. The problem for me was also the fact that it was particularly difficult to sit through Carrère's enthusiastic description of the French court system and the judicial law surrounding the enthralling subjects of credit lending and debt. In French, it was too much for me to plough through. And the title is misleading. In a good way, perhaps. Certainly, Carrère, the journalist he is, enjoys "talking about other people," as he puts it at one point, but the book is chiefly about Carrère himself. He's egotistical, moody, judgmental and slightly afraid of being on his own. Most of the narrative serves as a mirror through which he takes a good, long look at his own life - and that is probably the most realistic feature of the novel: surely, all lives other than our own serve only to shed light on, well, our own.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Durrant

    "I prefer what I have in common with other people to what sets me apart from them" (242). This is one conclusion of Emmanuel Carrère's deeply affecting narrative "Lives Other than My Own" (D'autres vies que la mienne). Within a few short years, Carrère, a French writer and cineaste, experienced the death of a friend's young daughter in the Sri Lanka tsunami and the death of his companion's sister, a mother of three young daughters, from cancer. These events constitute the heart of a writing proj "I prefer what I have in common with other people to what sets me apart from them" (242). This is one conclusion of Emmanuel Carrère's deeply affecting narrative "Lives Other than My Own" (D'autres vies que la mienne). Within a few short years, Carrère, a French writer and cineaste, experienced the death of a friend's young daughter in the Sri Lanka tsunami and the death of his companion's sister, a mother of three young daughters, from cancer. These events constitute the heart of a writing project, which culminates with this book and focuses upon how these deaths affected both the families concerned as well as Carrère himself. In the process of pondering and writing about such tragedies, Carrère experiences healing in his own life, almost as if the best therapy is not found in navel-gazing but in turning one's attention to others. This is a work of great humanity and deals with painful subjects without ever becoming overly sentimental. It also, for reasons I will not go into here, teaches the reader much about the French judicial system as it functions at the lowest but perhaps most significant level. In the course of that discussion, Carrère quotes a wonderful aphorism that he says circulates among students preparing to become magistrates: "the Penal Code is what keeps the poor from robbing the rich and the Civil Code is what lets the rich rob the poor" (177). Gotta love it!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mowmow

    I remember I was a bit surprised about the tsunami part. It is a bit disconnected from the rest of the book and make it as succession of misfurtune, which is not what is interesting in this book. What marked me a lot is the second part when they are back in France. The story of how Juliette handle her cancer, the friendship and family relations the characters have together. We feel close to the characters and they are truthfully? authentic? persons that endure life but take care of each other. It I remember I was a bit surprised about the tsunami part. It is a bit disconnected from the rest of the book and make it as succession of misfurtune, which is not what is interesting in this book. What marked me a lot is the second part when they are back in France. The story of how Juliette handle her cancer, the friendship and family relations the characters have together. We feel close to the characters and they are truthfully? authentic? persons that endure life but take care of each other. It make you feel what is really important in life and shows you that you have the keys to make your choices and be happy :)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Speranza

    I read "The Adversary" a long time ago and remember being so perplexed by the story that the writing kind of faded into the background. I was perplexed by the author this time - an egocentric sensationalist with zero fantasy and limited writing skill. Maybe I am doing him injustice, and he has written some great fiction that doesn't center around real life mass murderers, tsunami victims and people dying of cancer, but I don't think I will ever find out. And somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion t I read "The Adversary" a long time ago and remember being so perplexed by the story that the writing kind of faded into the background. I was perplexed by the author this time - an egocentric sensationalist with zero fantasy and limited writing skill. Maybe I am doing him injustice, and he has written some great fiction that doesn't center around real life mass murderers, tsunami victims and people dying of cancer, but I don't think I will ever find out. And somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion that Carrère is out there somewhere waiting for the next big disaster to happen.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott Munden

    If it's possible to be a compassionate cynic, Emmanuel Carrère manages it beautifully. If it's possible to be a compassionate cynic, Emmanuel Carrère manages it beautifully.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ayelet Waldman

    I just love the way he plays with the concept of memoir.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Haley

    I found this memoir to be very different, honest and intimate. The structure is strange - the first third or so of the novel focuses on the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which the author witnessed as a tourist in Sri Lanka, while the remaining portion focused on the death of his 33 year old sister-in-law from cancer. Near the end of the novel, Carrère elucidates the connection between these events: "Every day for six months I deliberately spent several hours at the computer writing a I found this memoir to be very different, honest and intimate. The structure is strange - the first third or so of the novel focuses on the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which the author witnessed as a tourist in Sri Lanka, while the remaining portion focused on the death of his 33 year old sister-in-law from cancer. Near the end of the novel, Carrère elucidates the connection between these events: "Every day for six months I deliberately spent several hours at the computer writing about what frightens me the most on this earth: the death of a child for her parents and the death of a young woman for her husband and children. Life made me a witness to those two misfortunes, one right after the other, and assigned me - at least that's how I understood it - to tell that story. Life has spared me such unhappiness and I pray will continue to do so." And this is also, partially the strangeness of this memoir - memoir through witness, memoir through events outside of the author's self that he feels alienated from. It felt like a very intimate and very honest portrayal of the author's emotions during these events. He describes his jealousy of other's needs on his wife's time during the aftermath of the tsunami and his utter distance from his sister-in-laws death (and even the disdain he previously felt for her). In both instances, he felt like an outsider, as tragedy lashed out at those around him and he remained blissfully untouched, and he was discomfited by that good fortune. The intimacy and distance of others (or, as Rebecca Solnit dubbed it, "The Faraway Nearby"), explored through these events and dynamics was really interesting to read about. At one point Carrère quotes, "I am a man and nothing human is alien to me," which feels very relevant to the whole project of the novel. Overall, I was entranced with the first section on the tsunami, and disenchanted with the remainder, which takes detours to describe the French court system that his sister-in-law worked within, and just overall felt less potent. There were interesting elements throughout (including the author's carefully worded view that cancer to some degree is psychosomatic - "... I do believe that certain people have been damaged at their core almost from the beginning and cannot, despite their courage and best efforts, really live. I also believe that one of the ways in which life, which wants to live, works its way through such people can be in disease, and not just in any disease: cancer.") But, overall there was nothing too dazzling or memorable about this work, which ultimately shines the most for its unusual and honest treatment of its subject.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    A couple of summers back, The New York Times Book Review podcast contributors were on a major Carrere binge, and this was one of his titles that they most promoted- although they struggled to define it or describe it in much detail. I'll attempt to do better. This memoir is mostly about facing death- the death of a child, the death of a spouse, one's own impending demise- although there's also an extended digression into credit law in France. Structurally, it hangs together by association. Beginn A couple of summers back, The New York Times Book Review podcast contributors were on a major Carrere binge, and this was one of his titles that they most promoted- although they struggled to define it or describe it in much detail. I'll attempt to do better. This memoir is mostly about facing death- the death of a child, the death of a spouse, one's own impending demise- although there's also an extended digression into credit law in France. Structurally, it hangs together by association. Beginning with a (rather unsuccessful) vacation in Sri Lanka that's upended by a massive tsunami, he follows the experiences of parents who lost their child in the wave; then he dissects his relationship with his partner whose sister is dying of cancer. More than half of the book is devoted to the sister's experience and one of her colleagues who also had cancer. The section on credit law is part of a discussion of what made life meaningful for these two cancer victims- and, I guess, how their lives might have meaning for others. Although it initially seems like an awkward fit, Carrere's "internship" in France's lower courts is important to how he understands the connective thread of the memoir. For a man who uses Freud's definition of mental health: "to be able to love, work, and play" (although he notably omits "play) as the measure of his own success at living, it's important for him to demonstrate how the subjects of his book were accomplished in both love and work. Carrere begins the book by stating he doesn't know how to love, and it's one of his great sadnesses. It was a great sadness to me as well because having to read through another person's self-involved discussion of his emotional deficiencies in addition to his patronizing vision of what a life worth living entails began to remind me of reading Hemingway. It also demonstrated his point, and made me wonder if writing a memoir is really the best way to ask oneself the question of whether one can learn to love. So, there is a section of my copy of the book where I furiously debate the author and his stupid ego using a borrowed pen. It only lasts a few pages. Carrere bounces back when he talks about Juliette's illness, especially her final days. I stayed up late to finish it as I preferred to do all of my crying in one sitting. I don't know that I would recommend it as whole-heartedly as the The New York Times Book Review, but it's worth a read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    This book left me fairly baffled. I didn't understand why Carrère had written it, or why he structured it the way he did. He took two unrelated events: on holiday in Sri Lanka he witnessed the effects of the tsunami, and met a French couple who lost their four-year-old daughter. Later, after he and his partner return home, his partner's sister, whom he barely knows, becomes ill and eventually dies of cancer at the age of 33. Well, there is a connection between these events I suppose: him. Why di This book left me fairly baffled. I didn't understand why Carrère had written it, or why he structured it the way he did. He took two unrelated events: on holiday in Sri Lanka he witnessed the effects of the tsunami, and met a French couple who lost their four-year-old daughter. Later, after he and his partner return home, his partner's sister, whom he barely knows, becomes ill and eventually dies of cancer at the age of 33. Well, there is a connection between these events I suppose: him. Why did he feel qualified to publish a book about them? There are some moving moments as you try to fathom how it must feel to lose your child in a moment, or what it's like to lie on a hospital bed with your dying wife. But mostly I just wondered where it was all going. At the end, he clumsily brings back the family of the tsunami victim -- they've kept in touch, but don't seem to have become close friends. Juliette, his sister in law, was a magistrate in a local court, dealing with consumer issues and personal debt (curiously the dead child was also called Juliette). For some reason he includes a long section, fifty pages or so, in which he interviews her colleague Etienne and after telling you all about Etienne's life history recounts more than you ever wished to know about French law on surendettement. Etienne and Juliette are concerned not just with legal justice but social justice, and spend a lot of time figuring out ways to invalidate "revolving credit" contracts gullible people have signed, much to the disgust of the large financial companies involved (Incidentally they are also both disabled as a result of childhood cancers which is what first creates a bond between them). Eventually they get the European Court of Justice involved and are thrilled to gain a victory over the credit companies. Reflecting on it, perhaps the point of this section is to demonstrate that even people apparently in relatively dull, trivial jobs can gain enormous satisfaction from them, and do their bit to relieve human misery -- as a result of Juliette and Etienne's actions, many very poor people had their debts reduced or cancelled altogether. Its also perhaps a way of acknowledging his self-centredness: showing interest in "lives other than his own". So I'm eager to find out what the French people in my book group think of it all. Maybe they can explain it!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jee Koh

    Impressed by his careful portraits of loss, a child to the tsunami at Sri Lanka, and a wife and mother to cancer. The writing is not just empathetic but keenly aware of the limits of empathy. He is hard on himself, particularly on his writerly egotism, especially in the earlier chapters. One wishes that either he complicates that simple self-criticism or amplifies it with detail and illustration, but perhaps the latter choice would have tipped the delicate balance of the book. As it is, the two Impressed by his careful portraits of loss, a child to the tsunami at Sri Lanka, and a wife and mother to cancer. The writing is not just empathetic but keenly aware of the limits of empathy. He is hard on himself, particularly on his writerly egotism, especially in the earlier chapters. One wishes that either he complicates that simple self-criticism or amplifies it with detail and illustration, but perhaps the latter choice would have tipped the delicate balance of the book. As it is, the two sections are not equal and only tenuously linked by his presence in both situations, but the tenuousness of life is also what the book explores. “The truth is we don’t know what goes on at the last minute; there must be lives that only seem to be failures, that find their meaning in extremis or whose value we have simply missed. There must also be lives that seem a success but are living hells, perhaps even at the end, although that’s horrible to imagine." (68) "Pierre Cazenave is not a theoretician, he speaks only from experience, his own and that of his patients, to whom he is bound by "unconditional solidarity with what the human condition holds of unfathomable distress." (That is the formula with which he defines his art, and I would like to be worthy of claiming it for my own.)" As would I.

  23. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is the more fully-realized, more complete book that I expected from Carrere. My Life as a Russian Novel is good, the writing made me a believer, and this book is confirmation of that belief. Heart-rending and beautiful, this story honestly details his sister-in-law's battle with multiple conditions and eventual death at the age of 33. Carrere does well to show the unique characters who played central roles in her life, most interestingly her quirky, placid husband and a fiery, intellectual This is the more fully-realized, more complete book that I expected from Carrere. My Life as a Russian Novel is good, the writing made me a believer, and this book is confirmation of that belief. Heart-rending and beautiful, this story honestly details his sister-in-law's battle with multiple conditions and eventual death at the age of 33. Carrere does well to show the unique characters who played central roles in her life, most interestingly her quirky, placid husband and a fiery, intellectual colleague who shares a disability that unites them. Not to be outdone by his characters - as he himself is one - the book is not without commentary from Carrere, his fears, amazement, reverence and self-education. This is his style, and he stomps on a line between disarming honesty and questionable egotism. But above all it is honest and that is what is painfully and rewardingly endearing about his writing. The more I read writers who approach themselves so nakedly - Klaus Ove Knausgaard, most recently - the more I am encouraged to see myself as honestly as I can and answer to that. Recommended.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rebecka

    I can't really make up my mind about this one. It is very well written, the language is beautiful and the title is awesome, but while reading the book I didn't really care about the theme. It's a weird theme, writing about the grief of people around you, beginning with one event and then, quite accidentally, slipping into another one, which ends up with lots of court/justice matters... it's a weird book, actually, but once I finished it, I really liked it. Not in the way that I would read it aga I can't really make up my mind about this one. It is very well written, the language is beautiful and the title is awesome, but while reading the book I didn't really care about the theme. It's a weird theme, writing about the grief of people around you, beginning with one event and then, quite accidentally, slipping into another one, which ends up with lots of court/justice matters... it's a weird book, actually, but once I finished it, I really liked it. Not in the way that I would read it again, but it really had something. That I was actually able to read about all the cases on credit companies, Etienne and Juliette and their struggle, things that really, really, really aren't of any interest to me, and not get bored out of my mind, does say something about the author. Grief is an interesting theme, and true accounts of how people handle it are fascinating. I found those parts of the book very interesting, and also how other people's grief affects your own life, as portrayed by the author and the change he goes through. If it was possible, I'd give the book 3,5 stars, but as it is, it will get 4.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    This book came to my attention when I read about it on the NYT's roundup of the 50 best memoirs of the last 50 years. It's unlike any other book I've read, one which Emmanuel Carrere, a French writer and filmmaker, journeys from being self-centered to finding empathy. His story begins in 2004 in Sri Lanka where he and Helene, his partner, and their two pre-adolescent sons, are vacationing when a tsunami hits. While Carrere and his family are spared, they meet another family whose loss was catast This book came to my attention when I read about it on the NYT's roundup of the 50 best memoirs of the last 50 years. It's unlike any other book I've read, one which Emmanuel Carrere, a French writer and filmmaker, journeys from being self-centered to finding empathy. His story begins in 2004 in Sri Lanka where he and Helene, his partner, and their two pre-adolescent sons, are vacationing when a tsunami hits. While Carrere and his family are spared, they meet another family whose loss was catastrophic. This chance meeting sets the author's self-examination in motion. Lives Other Than My Own is, as its title suggests, much more than an exercise in navel-gazing. The author's focus eventually becomes the story of his partner's sister, Juliette, who was stricken with cancer in her teens and who lived a brief but full life in which she had a career as a judge and a family. It's through this exploration that Carrere gains appreciation of what he has and grows enormously. The author writes vulnerably and openly about his own shortcomings which is part of what makes this memoir well worth your time.

  26. 5 out of 5

    beth

    Carrere is a sharp writer and a terrifically frank narrator. Included here are testaments of tragedies that occurred in proximity to Carrere -- though not to him -- and the context of his life as he experienced and documented them. Should I care that his marriage might have been saved because he bore witness to the sorrows others experienced? I say yes. While he is at the center of the story in many ways, it's not self-indulgent to me. He's present as a narrator, he's honest (even when it is off Carrere is a sharp writer and a terrifically frank narrator. Included here are testaments of tragedies that occurred in proximity to Carrere -- though not to him -- and the context of his life as he experienced and documented them. Should I care that his marriage might have been saved because he bore witness to the sorrows others experienced? I say yes. While he is at the center of the story in many ways, it's not self-indulgent to me. He's present as a narrator, he's honest (even when it is offensive) but I never felt like he was was appropriating the "lives of others" to tell his own story. I did feel a lack of intentionality or clear vision -- I think much of the book was owed to the fact that he and Etienne had an instant connection, Etienne had a story to tell, and Carrere decided to take the commission. The rest of the book was built around that. It worked for me, it might not for you.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Susannah

    I have just ré-read this book three years later, actually having no recollection of reading it before. Which is surprising, as it made an impression on me this time round, mainly with regard to the young mum's death and discussion around and about this topic. Extremely detailed insight into what thoughts went through this woman's mind when she knew she was dying - what she went through during her first night in hospital with her diagnosis, how she - and Etienne considered their cancer - as a 'p I have just ré-read this book three years later, actually having no recollection of reading it before. Which is surprising, as it made an impression on me this time round, mainly with regard to the young mum's death and discussion around and about this topic. Extremely detailed insight into what thoughts went through this woman's mind when she knew she was dying - what she went through during her first night in hospital with her diagnosis, how she - and Etienne considered their cancer - as a 'part of them' or as a foreign body. This book has made me think about death, actually consider it as a real thing, rather than read about it in an abstract way, unrelated to me and my circumstances. For that real, often ugly way of writing, I commend Carrere.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    While the beginning of this book was very intriguing and provided a fascinating look into the feelings of grief experienced by a couple who lost their daughter in the tsunami of 2007, the bulk of the book was dry and boring. The author went into exhaustive detail about the French judicial system and focused on minutia related to court cases instead of on the broader themes of grief, compassion, and empathy that permeated the beginning of the book. Much, much different than what I was expecting a While the beginning of this book was very intriguing and provided a fascinating look into the feelings of grief experienced by a couple who lost their daughter in the tsunami of 2007, the bulk of the book was dry and boring. The author went into exhaustive detail about the French judicial system and focused on minutia related to court cases instead of on the broader themes of grief, compassion, and empathy that permeated the beginning of the book. Much, much different than what I was expecting after that blurb in the NYT Magazine. Disappointing.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    The most unexpected, beautiful, touching book I have read ... at least in a very long time. Also - a gorgeous book for lawyers, speaking to our power to impact the lives of those we serve.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    I cried!

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