Inga Clendinnen Tiger's Eye: A Memoir

ISBN 13: 9781876485559

Tiger's Eye: A Memoir

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9781876485559: Tiger's Eye: A Memoir
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"A decade ago...I fell ill.'Fall' is the appropriate word; it is almost as alarming and quite as precipitous as falling in love."

So begins Inga Clendinnen's beautifully written, revelatory memoir exploring the working of human memory and the construction of the self. In her early fifties, Clendinnen, Australia's award-winning historian of Mayan and Aztec history, was struck with an incurable liver disease, immobilized and forced to give up formal research and teaching. From her sickness comes a striking realization of literacy's protean possibilities: that writing can be a vital refuge from the debilitation of the body, and that the imagination can blossom as the body is enfeebled.

Exiled from both society and the solace of history, and awaiting the mysterious interventions of medical science, Clendinnen begins to write: about her childhood in Australia, her parents, her neighbors, her own history. In addition to recovering half-forgotten stories -- about the town baker and his charming horse, Herbie, about the three elderly, reclusive sisters who let her into their clandestine world -- Clendinnen invents new ones to escape the confines of the hospital, with subjects ranging from the jealousies between sisters to a romantic, Kafkaesque encounter on a train. She also traces the physical, mental and moral impacts of her disease, and voices the terrifying drama of bizarre, vivid drug- and illness-induced hallucinations -- even one she had during her liver transplant.

Along the way, Clendinnen begins to doubt her own memories, remembering things that she knows cannot have happened and realizing that true stories often produce a false picture of the whole. With her gifts for language and observation, Clendinnen deftly explores and maps the obscure terrain that divides history from fiction and truth from memory, as she tries to uncover the relationship between her former selves and the woman she is now. An exquisite hybrid of humorous childhood recollections, masterful fictions and probing history, Tiger's Eye is a uniquely powerful book about how illness can challenge the self -- and how writing can help one define and realize it.

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Review:

In her early 50s, Australian historian Inga Clendinnen fell ill with acute liver disease. "'Fall' is the appropriate word," she writes. "It is ... like falling down Alice's rabbit hole into a world which might resemble this solid one, but which operates on quite different principles." Her imaginative, unconventional memoir mirrors the hallucinatory nature of this world as she mingles reminiscences, fiction, hospital sketches, and family profiles to chart the course of her physical and mental life from diagnosis through a successful liver transplant and recovery.

Anyone who has ever been in a hospital will recognize the frail, vulnerable, disoriented state of mind she evokes in describing her time there. Yet Clendinnen also displays biting humor (especially in portraits of fellow patients) and an almost mystical sense of purpose as she seizes on writing as the tool to make sense of her situation. Childhood memories loom large, many invoking the beauty of the natural world, ever-present and overwhelming in rural Australia. Presiding over that childhood, her proud, stoical, impenetrable mother "provided me with an inspiriting mystery: the obdurate opacity of other beings"--and sparked, Clendinnen believes, her lifelong pursuit of historical mysteries.

But the experience of being seriously ill dominates this text. The title comes from her determination to emulate a zoo tiger she admires because he refuses to acknowledge his imprisonment: "I too was in a cage, with feeding times and washing times and bars at the side of my cot, and people coming to stare and prod ... whenever I felt the threat of the violation of self, I would invoke the vision of the tiger." For all the grim candor with which she evokes physical deterioration, Clendinnen also persuasively conveys her discovery that "illness casts you off, but it also cuts you free ... the clear prospect of death only makes living more engaging." --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly:

Although Australian author Clendinnen is a specialist in ancient Mexican cultures, readers may remember her best for Reading the Holocaust. Here, she turns her historian's eye inward, to make sense of the year when, in her 50s, she was felled by acute liver disease and found that only by writing could she free herself at least psychologically and intellectually from the confines of her hospital bed. Yet Clendinnen does not burden us with a sentimental account of her near-death experience; instead, she carefully explores the root of history, fiction and the self: "Janus-faced" memory. In the course of writing, Clendinnen discovers that her memory is eel-like, selective, inaccurate and biased, despite her best efforts to pin it down. This realization leads her to new insights about historical inquiry and about the porous border delineating fact and fiction. At one point during her recovery, she was unexpectedly interrupted by hallucinations subconscious dreams that weave bits of her own history with fiction so she decided to try her hand at fiction, producing a series of brief, tantalizing characters and situations that deepen this devastatingly beautiful, intricate and wide-ranging work. Ultimately, though her exploration of "I" leads to better self-understanding, Clendinnen chooses not to dwell on herself, but to return to history, "where I began." Aimed at women of a certain age who are taking stock of themselves and the world around them, Clendinnen's book offers a rare and original meditation on the construction of the self.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Book Description Text Publishing, 2000. Paperback. Condition: New. 1. 'This is a rare book, and rare in its own time. It is memoir, history, fiction, a documenting of filial gratitude and ingratitude, and a record of the cauldron of experience of a near-fatal illness, all bundled, coherently ? that's the miracle ? between covers. And written with a white intensity that assaults the way a Southern Ocean breaker does: first, shock, then ? exhilaration.The paradox of this intensely personal, powerfully intelligent memoir is that it lets the reader through while leaving Clendinnen and the people she anatomises with their skins on and mystery intact.I am reminded of Sylvia Plath's last poems, not because Clendinnen is derivative ? she is indelibly herself ? but because she, too, can extrude clarity out of chaos.' ? Morag Fraser, Age. Paperback. Seller Inventory # MM-40022131

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