I’ve long believed that fiction isn’t simply an escape, but can help you come to terms with tough personal challenges. Having recently had a family member diagnosed with dementia, I’ve found myself reading once-read books about the illness with a new outlook. And, along with this debut, they’ve all helped me understand the journey ahead far more than the cold, hard facts on the internet that don’t truly translate the depth of love and loss felt by sufferers and loved ones alike.
the debut Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
If I were to say to you that this is a deceptively light-hearted look at living with Alzheimers you might (understandably) think I’ve gone mad. After all, how could this subject ever be taken lightly? But with a magical deftness of touch, Khong has managed to write a sweet, funny story about a family’s awkward adjustment to their new life with this illness. Ruth is a 30 year old sonographer who has moved home to help look after her ailing father. Howard is a prominent history professor passionate about the past who is battling a disease that is slowly making him forget his. As well as adjusting to life back in her childhood home, learning how to care for her father and bring much-needed dignity and usefulness back to his life by arranging with some former students for him to teach a fake class at his old University, Ruth is also dealing with a broken engagement and a mother broken – changed beyond recognition – by the deterioration of her husband.
‘What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers.’ – Goodbye, Vitamin
Ruth’s year of care-giving is diarised both by her, but also, in a fashion, by her father who gives her an old red notebook that lovingly charts her childhood through the funny things she said and did: ‘Today, when I told you to behave, you roared angrily: I’M BEING HAVE. Today I had to stop by the post office, and you looked around and said, aghast, “This is errands?” Today I thought: I’m nuts – I’m just nuts – about you.” This subtle, sweet but never saccharine story is a reflection of a family’s love and the importance of nurturing our shared memories.