The point is that in her memoir Beautiful Affliction, we journey with her through the nearly constant, terrifying, painful symptoms that follow her from her native Sweden to the United States, where she ultimately discovers she is in the last stages of a fatal congenital heart disease.
With exceptional detail, Fogelberg brings readers into her head as she struggles to breathe, to raise her two daughters without letting them know she is sick, and to navigate her homeland’s healthcare system, which takes too long to figure out what’s wrong.
I’m a fan of the flashbacks she uses to show how far back she had to deal with her condition. As early as the first chapter we are seeing the world—and the doctor’s office—through her eyes as a young girl: “I know what that is, it’s a stethoscope, my mom told me earlier.” Back and forth from the present to the past, we also learn about her relationship as she tries to acclimate to Philadelphia (where her incredibly supportive husband, Anders, has been transferred for work) while homesick and convinced—for a long time without a diagnosis—that she is dying.
Those who have been hit with dire medical news can relate to remembering the smallest details; in Fogelberg’s case, the ceiling fan spins and a cat paws through the grass in the backyard. And parents will be able to sympathize when Fogelberg, insisting her girls “live in the security of having their mamma with them forever” until the moment she stops breathing, acknowledges with a heavy heart that she has just lied to preserve healthy appearances. These are the types of details that keep a reader hooked.
The questions behind the logic of her condition, the doubts about her sanity, the attempts to find meaning behind the seemingly meaningless. It all resonates deeply and powerfully through a story about living on the verge of death—and then getting a chance to live differently.
About the author: Lene Fogelberg is an award-winning poet and a double open-heart surgery survivor. Born in Sweden, she has lived in the US and now lives in Indonesia. She Writes Press published her first book, Beautiful Affliction, A Memoir, on September 15, 2015.