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Scar Tissue [Paperback]

Michael Ignatieff
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

July 27 1993
A report from that other country called illness. At its heart is a son's memoir of his mother's voyage into the world of neurological disease, where she first loses her memory, and then her very identity, only to gain - at the very end - a strange serenity. By the author of "The Russian Album".

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From Publishers Weekly

This searching, poignant account of a woman's descent into Alzheimer's disease and her son's debilitating existential fear and guilt is a cri de coeur that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. While the subject has been treated before, Ignatieff ( Aysa ) brings to it highly honed powers of observation and a philosophic turn of mind. The title refers to "the dark starbursts of scar tissue" that indicate a brain being destroyed. Haunted by the genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's in his mother's family, the narrator describes each harrowing stage of her illness, meanwhile speculating about the loss of selfhood when language and memory are obliterated. There is irony in his insight that "we have just enough knowledge to know our fate but not enough to do anything to avert it." The ramifications of the mother's decline destroy the family: the narrator ascribes his father's fatal heart attack, the demise of his own marriage, a break with his brother and his months of crippling depression as inescapable consequences. At times, one becomes impatient with the narrator's self-destructive behavior, his utter despair and his emotional estrangement from his wife and children. Though the prose is carefully restrained, as the book reaches its climax there is a tinge of melodrama and excess that does, however, accurately convey the narrator's conviction that he cannot escape his mother's fate.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this fictionalized account of a mother's death from Alzheimer's disease told from the perspective of a son, Ignatieff (Asya, LJ 9/15/91) examines the relationships between life, consciousness, disease, and death. Father was a Russian emigre and soil chemist, Mother was a painter with a family history of the disease, and their two sons have grown up to become a neurological researcher and a philosophy professor. It is the philosopher who tells the story, dipping into childhood memories as he recounts embarrassing and excrutiating details of his mother's decline and death. The philosopher probes unceasingly to comprehend his mother's degree of understanding as her memory and sense of self shrink, admiring the abstract beauty of the brain scan that the neurologist dispassionately interprets. And it is the philosopher who finds the seeds of the same disease inside himself. This novel is both beautiful in its quiet celebration of each moment of life and almost unbearable in its exploration of questions most often unasked. This awesome piece of work should be in most collections.
--Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., Va.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Way of All Minds Jan. 31 2005
Format:Paperback
Although Michael Ignatieff is primarily known as a writer of intelligent books of accessible political theory, his short novel, "Scar Tissue," published more than a decade ago, is a beautifully observed, emotionally precise account of the fraying of minds, flesh, and relationships. It's one the earliest of several good books about the loss of a parent through Alzheimer's disease -- Ignatieff's novel is comparable to John Bayley's memoir of his wife, Iris Murdoch -- but it's more than that. Ignatieff's fiction-maybe-memoir (it has an intensely autobiographical feel) also presents an unsentimental, even merciless, portrait of the book's narrator and his relations with parents, spouse, and others. Again and again, I was struck, and moved by, the psychological accuracy of the book, and the writer's courage in facing up to not only a lot of the "big questions," but to the cost of one's own self-deceptions.
Scar Tissue got a modicum of attention when it first appeared, but I've long had the sense that it deserves many more readers. In addition to all else, I'd put it on any list of "Best Canadian Novels" of the last 15 years.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The heartbreaking loss of an aging parent Nov. 15 1998
By Rick Hunter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Michael Ignatieff's 1994 novel Scar Tissue is the story of two brothers, one a neurologist and the other a philosophy professor, coming to grips with their aged mother's descent into a wasting neurological disorder (Alzheimers?). Neither philosophy or science are able to make sense of the illness, and the question ultimately becomes how the narrator and his brother are to carry on in the face of the inexplicable. This is a sensitive story, finely told.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Way of All Minds Jan. 31 2005
By Stan Persky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Although Michael Ignatieff is primarily known as a writer of intelligent books of accessible political theory, his short novel, "Scar Tissue," published more than a decade ago, is a beautifully observed, emotionally precise account of the fraying of minds, flesh, and relationships. It's one the earliest of several good books about the loss of a parent through Alzheimer's disease -- Ignatieff's novel is comparable to John Bayley's memoir of his wife, Iris Murdoch -- but it's more than that. Ignatieff's fiction-maybe-memoir (it has an intensely autobiographical feel) also presents an unsentimental, even merciless, portrait of the book's narrator and his relations with parents, spouse, and others. Again and again, I was struck, and moved by, the psychological accuracy of the book, and the writer's courage in facing up to not only a lot of the "big questions," but to the cost of one's own self-deceptions.
Scar Tissue got a modicum of attention when it first appeared, but I've long had the sense that it deserves many more readers. In addition to all else, I'd put it on any list of "Best Canadian Novels" of the last 15 years.
4.0 out of 5 stars Life's Grotesque Jan. 5 2009
By Gergana Atanasova - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Scar Tissue by Michael Ignatieff is a book about the omnipresent human struggle for answers. It is about a man's journey to the country of doubt where neither spirituality nor science prove to be sufficient enough to define the universal meaning of life.
The narrator, a middle-aged professor of philosophy, is shattered by his mother's mental condition. She is diagnosed with Alzheimer. The family tragedy is worsened by the sudden death of his father. This forces the narrator to reconnect to his brother, a neuroscientist. He needs his knowledge about the workings of the human brain in order to understand his mother's traumatized mentality and tormented fate. Unfortunately, scientific theories turn out to be useless. Having spent his entire life among the shelves in the library, among the existential questions of Aristotle and Plato, the narrator finally realizes that what human race really needs are neither words, nor question marks. It is answers. Not in the form of sentences, of facts, but in the form of serenity.
The narrator makes a living by giving lectures about the meaning of life. Years after years, he had tried to solve the puzzle of existence by turning it into a labyrinth of rhetorical questions and contradictory hypotheses. Only to find out that, sadly, words have their unavoidable limit. As Stephen King once wrote, "The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them - words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out." As Michael Ignatieff himself writes in his novel, "We tell stories as if to refuse this truth, as if to say that we make our fate, rather than simply endure it. But in truth we make nothing." Faced with the meaninglessness of his overflowing words, the narrator starts losing his identity, his security - just like his ill mother. In the end, he is on the same stairway as her - the stairway towards extinction. Not because of a mental or physical condition, but due to the very fact that the only thing that ever confirmed his existence was a beautifully arranged bouquet of empty words.
With finesse, Michael Ignatieff succeeds in writing a novel about the meaninglessness of writing novels. About the insignificance of words, of philosophy, of science when faced with life's grotesque frown.
5.0 out of 5 stars The novel as memoir: a clearly and intelligently written family breakdown story Aug. 21 2006
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is from page one, a clearly and beautifully written work. It is a novel, and for all I know there is much 'fictional' in it, but I read it as a memoir. It is ostensibly the story of the narrator's mother's mental breakdown, her deterioration in a form of Alzheimer. i.e. the work ostensibly centers on the 'mother' her life, her story, what happens to her mind. But it is much more than that . It is a family, or two family stories, and both of breakdown.

The principal story is of family the narrator grew up in. The secondary story is of his own family, his wife and children. The connection is not made so directly, but clearly the breakdown of one family, the illness of the mother and the son narrator's intense devotion to her, lead to the breakdown of the second family, his leaving his wife and two children.

The book also tells the story of two other major characters, the narrator's father and brother. The father a Russian immigrant to America , and the lesser loved parent dies in the course of the mother's illness. The presentation of the lives of the parents, and the relations between them is done in a strong and convincing way. Here again the writer blends present experience and memory in a most effective way.

Also the story of the two brothers is important in relating to a fundamental philosophical theme of the work ie the true meaning of self and identity. The physician brother provides hard scientific insight which of course does not solve the mystery of the mother's mental deterioration, but provides nonetheless a path for understanding it.

The book again is written clearly and is a fluent and gripping read.

My reservations are a bit on the ethical side. The son's seeming lack of attention to his own children in his obsessive care for his mother is to my mind a major fault. Despite the authenticity of the relationships depicted I found myself a bit reserved in feeling , perhaps at my own failure to deeply like , or sympathize with the suffering parents, main characters.

Yet I think my reservations are unimportant here. This book is especially strong in depicting the complexity of family relations, the painful difficulties of real familial relationships.

It too, when it comes down to it, seems to me to succeed as a kind of 'love story' as one in which the narrator- son does display a tremendous devotion and love to his mother.

A humane and again beautifully written book. Very highly recommended.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful and brave novel Nov. 20 2004
By Melanie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Michael Ignatieff's novel is written from the perspective of a son who has a mother with a family with a history of dementia. The title reflects the fact that scan of the brain shows scar tissue, and this is how her condition is first diagnoised. The son, the protagonist, is a philosophy professor who has successfully started a life of his own, complete with a very satisfying career and a family of his own. The novel captures the story of his mother, father, and his brother and their experiences in dealing with the mother's diagnosis of premature senile dementia and the progression of her condition.

This book won the MIND Book of the Year: Allen Lane Award (an annual UK award given to a Fiction/Nonfiction book about mental health) and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. The writing is astounding, and as a result I was unprepared for the author's ability to describe the emotional journey of the protagonist. I found myself haunted by the themes and subject matter in the same way that someone passing by a car wreck can't help but stop to stare.

Ignatieff examines what dementia does to the identity of the sufferer and he references the de Kooning, the famous American painter who developed Alzheimer's disease and yet continued to paint. He also examines what dementia does to his own identity, as he find himself trying to figure out who he is when his own mother no longer recognizes him as her son.

This book is a great achievement and will especially appeal to those readers who are seeking a book about illness and the philosophies related to illness and identity.
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