Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Albom finds out his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease (ALS) and has only a short time left to live, and sixteen years after they last saw each other, Albom resolves to reconnect with his mentor.

Albom was burning the candle at both ends, he worked constantly and conflated busy-ness with purpose, happiness and his own self-worth. When the unions went on strike at his newspaper, he was forced to confront the emptiness of his life. Suddenly with lots of time and no excuses, he decides to visit Morrie on a Tuesday, which become regular visits until the end of his mentor’s life.

Having read Have a Little Faith (reviewed here) before this, it’s clear they share similar themes as Albom considers what it is to have lived life well. We live like our time is infinite, yet when confronted with death, many of us regret how much time we’ve wasted. Knowing that their time is limited and determined not to waste it, Albom writes a list of topics he wants to discuss with Morrie such as aging and death, wealth, consumerism and charity, friendship and marriage.

Albom doesn’t shy away from describing Morrie’s deteriorating health and the descriptions of the progression of Morrie’s disease are humbling, yet even as his body fails him, his spirit does not. Self-pity is not in Morrie’s nature, instead he’s grateful he can spend the last months of his life with the people he loves most and has the chance to say goodbye – a privilege denied to many.

Tuesdays with Morrie is about the profound influence that mentors can have on our life and the lessons they teach us, it’s an incredibly poignant but inspiring little book about living and dying. Have a lovely week. X

Flowers and Hope

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This week began with a funeral as my family gathered to say our final farewells to my nanna who passed away at the end of February. By a lovely coincidence, there were daffodils spelling the word Hope, my nanna’s name, on the grounds of the Crematorium.

My nanna turned 93 last September and I feel incredibly lucky to have had her all through my childhood and well into adulthood, but I’ll miss her and life without her will be a huge adjustment for our family. It’s particularly sad timing as she passed away before meeting our baby, her great granddaughter.

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My grandparents on their wedding day in 1947

I’m very grateful to have such a store of memories with my nanna. I’ll remember her reading The Owl and the Pussycat to me when I was very little and reciting King John’s Christmas during Christmas dinner a couple of years ago. I’ll remember the sandwich cakes she baked for birthdays and special occasions, which were perfect every time, never burned, peaked, cracked or soggy. I’ll remember her singing songs from old musicals while she washed dishes, and her twinkling eyes and throaty chuckle as she told personal anecdotes.

When we came to clear out her house, there were only a few keepsakes I wanted, but I dug up some flowers from her garden that I hope will survive being moved to our garden and will always remind me of nanna. Have a lovely week. X

Review of ‘Umami’ by Laia Jufresa

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Umami is a novel set in Mexico City that follows the residents of five houses (named after the flavours sour, salty, sweet, bitter and umami) all of whom are experiencing some form of loss or grief. The story has five narrators, there is twelve-year-old Ana trying to make sense of the death of her little sister, Luz; Marina, an artist recovering from anorexia who creates colours to describe emotions; Alfonso, an anthropologist mourning the death of his vivacious wife, Noelia (who was in life grieving her own childlessness); Pina, Ana’s friend and neighbour, trying to understand her mother’s unexplained departure from the family, and finally, Luz, describing the events leading up to her death.

Umami has an unusual and non-linear structure, each chapter focuses on one character during a particular year starting with Ana in 2004, switching to Marina in 2003, then Alfonso in 2002, Luz in 2001 and Pina in 2000, before returning to Ana and working backwards again. The time and character shifts can seem disorientating at first but it allows the story to unfurl gradually and shows how seemingly ordinary interactions between the characters can take on greater meaning and significance once the consequences are fully revealed.

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Umami is a short novel that tackles some big themes such as loss, grief and identity. As Ana and Pina take their first awkward steps towards adolescence, Alfonso is adjusting to his own transition from husband to widower and also describes Noelia’s struggle with her own identity as a wife and respected cardiologist but “only a daughter” because of her childlessness, while Marina attempts to overcome anorexia, an abusive childhood and work out who she is.

The sense of loss that permeates through the novel isn’t the tidal waves of sorrow, anger and shock that wash over us when grief is fresh, but the dull ache of missing someone that never really goes away no matter how many years pass, and of slowly trying to find a new purpose in life.

The slow and thoughtful pace of Umami has been a pleasant contrast to the busy-ness at work and home in my own life over the last few weeks, and Umami is a poignant but hopeful novel that lingers long after the story ends.