Jonathan Kozol's The Theft of Memory: Read it.
21 August 2015
by Jonathan Kozol
I am a big Jonathan Kozol fan.
So when I saw he had a new memoir out, titled The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time, even if I wasn't particularly up to the subject matters of Alzheimer's, aging, and death, I thought I would read it.
And I was not disappointed. What makes this memoir of a dying parent particularly interesting is that Kozol's father was himself a well-known doctor, known for his "special gift for diagnosing interwoven elements of neurological and psychiatric illnesses in highly complicated and creative people." So, in a unique way, Harry Kozol (Jonathan's father) was able to make notes about and track his own decline. This gives the book an additional heartbreaking dimension.
Kozol also examines the many aspects of caring for aging parents, discussing his parents' changing relationships with him, with each other, their nursing home care, dealing with conflicting doctors' reports and inconsistencies, and his methods for finding in-home workers to help his parents stay in their own home until their deaths.
What I like best about Kozol's writing is that he seems to bring a crispness and attention to detail to memoir and "soft" science subjects like education and sociology that reads more like good scientific writing. (Joan Didion does this well too, I always think.) So yes. I think this was a valuable book to read. I will say that sometimes Kozol goes a bit too far off subject, discussing his father Harry's treatment of his famous patients, who included Eugene O'Neill. But those parts of the book are relatively brief (and actually, I skipped a few pages of the section on O'Neill's struggles), and the rest of the story makes it a worthwhile read. Cheerful, it's not. But a loving and detailed look at the challenges of caring for one's parents, combined with an appreciation for those parents' roles in shaping Kozol's own life? That it is.