The Light of the World
By Elizabeth Alexander
Grand Central Press, 2015
The Light of the World tells the story of Alexander’s husband’s death, at the age of fifty, and how she and her sons coped with the loss. Alexander’s use of language is singular, and her narrative style is unique. Her poetry background shines through as she narrates the circumstance of her husband’s death, how they fell in love, how they created a home for their sons together and then how she and her teenaged sons made a life for themselves on their own. I devoured this book in a few sittings.
Ficre Ghebreyesus was a worldly and passionate man who cooked, loved music and literature, and created beautiful paintings. He was from Eritrea and was working as a restaurant owner and painter in New Haven when they met. Their love was instant. Alexander has a deep appreciation for the small ways that people connect and love – watching her husband smoke, cooking together – and the big things that happen over the course of fifteen years together: two kids, two successful careers, multiple homes. She also weaves in culture references from literature, music, and African culture making her story both personal and universal.
This book is a page-turner; or at least it was for my husband and me. My husband, who reads mainly historical non-fiction, recommended the book to me after he got so engrossed in the story that he missed a subway stop on the way home from work and ended up in the wrong part of Brooklyn—many stops from our home. And as I wrote last week, this book made me cry. The story is so moving.
Alexander is a poet, playwright and professor at Yale. She wrote and delivered a poem at Obama’s 2008 inauguration and was the third black woman to get tenure at Yale University.