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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Another novelist overcomes stroke to write new book

Recently, I wrote about a Canadian mystery novelist who overcame a devastating stroke to write another novel, by the ingenious device of giving his series character the same disability.

Here, Diane Ackerman reflects on how her husband Paul West coped with his stroke:
Paul had had a massive stroke, one tailored to his own private hell. The author of more than 50 stylishly written books, a master of English prose with the largest working vocabulary I’d ever encountered, a man whose life revolved around words, he had suffered brain damage to the key language areas of his brain and could no longer process language in any form. Global aphasia, it’s called — the curse of a perpetual tip-of-the-tongue memory hunt. He understood little of what people said, and all he could utter was the syllable “mem.” Nothing more.

But it didn’t end there ...
Now, three years later, he has just finished writing his first novel since the stroke, one with Westian characters and themes. During a three-hour window of heightened fluency in the middle of the day, he can write in longhand, make phone calls, lunch with friends. He has reloomed vibrant carpets of vocabulary, and happily, despite the left hemisphere stroke, he seems happier than before, and I think his life feels richer in a score of ways.

What follows is an excerpt from The Shadow Factory, the aphasic memoir Paul dictated with such struggle and resolve, “forcing language back on itself.” In it, he recalls life in the hospital’s rehab unit, what he felt and thought, and explores some of the all-too-real tricks the mind plays to save itself from the tomb of lost words.

Enjoy it. And let's all encourage the stroke victims we know. It takes time, but the time is worth it.

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