Tag Archives: Elizabeth Scarboro

Books that Made Me Cry

I’ll never forget the experience of reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The book made me cry while flying on a transatlantic flight from New York to London. I’m not someone who cries easily in public, it probably helped that most of the people around me were asleep and could not see the tears quietly streaming down my face, but this book is such a powerful story of love, loss and grief that I cried through most of it.

When I finished The Year of Magical Thinking, and for many years after, I never thought I would read another book that addressed the same topics with such grace, but I have now read two other memoirs about love and loss that rival Didion’s classic. And they are both debuts.

Last year, I read and wrote about Elizabeth Scarboro’s My Foreign Cities. Some of you might remember this review. The book tells the story of her love for a man who had cystic fibrosis. Liz met Stephen in high school, where the book begins, but they do not commit to each other until after college when she moves to San Francisco to be with him.

So in her early 20s, Scarboro chooses to love, and live with, a man who will likely not live past 35. That set up is enough make my heart flutter for her bravery. But add to it that Scarboro’s writing is so open, and honest, by the end of the book I felt like I was her friend, as if she was telling the story just to me. I cried when Stephen went to the hospital and I cried when she knew she was going to lose him. But through the tears, I felt hope. Scarboro told a tragic story that was also a testament human resilience, to our ability to keep going when times are tough and to do everything we can to keep those we love alive.

And now there is Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World, a memoir about the loss of her husband. I will provide a full review next week, but if you have not heard of this book yet, it is another beautiful portrait of love and loss. Alexander explores what happens when we deeply connect with someone and what happens when that person dies, suddenly, at the age of 50.

Love and loss are tearjerkers, but each of these authors has an openness to write about their emotions that I find inspiring. I aspire to have as much courage as they do to put their experiences out in the world so openly and vividly. How about you? What books have made you cry?


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BEA and the Chautauqua Prize

BookExpo America (BEA) was last week and although I didn’t attend this year, I have been following their Buzz Books list, which features summer and fall release books they think are going to do well. Of the debut novels featured, war and family are themes I saw in a lot of the books, with a few of them being historical novels. Three that stood out to me are:

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. A historical novel set in 17th Century Amsterdam involving a woman who gets a miniature replica of her home as a wedding gift. The author was written about in this recent Guardian article, after the London Book Fair. (Summer 2014)

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. A story about two families divided by the Sir Lankan Civil War. It has been compared to Anil’s Ghost and The God of Small Things, which are two of my favorite books. I really want to read this one! (Fall 2014)

The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle. After spending many years living overseas, a young woman comes back to Tennessee to come to terms with her father’s release from prison and the death of her stepmother, who her father killed 17 years before. (Fall 2014)

And finally, congrats to Elizabeth Scarboro for wining this year’s Chautauqua Prize for her moving debut memoir, My Foreign Cities, which I reviewed earlier this year. A well-deserved prize for a remarkable book. If you have not read it yet, this memoir, a love story between a 20-something woman and 20-something man with a terminal illness, is one of the best books I have reviewed this year, but make sure you buy some tissues before you get too deep into the story.

More reviews next week…for the next couple of reviews, I will be writing about debut memoirs.





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My Foreign Cities: A Memoir, by Elizabeth Scarboro


My Foreign Cities: A Memoir

By Elizabeth Scarboro

Liveright, 2013

304 pages

This debut memoir is a moving love story—chronicling a young woman in love with a man who has a chronic, life-threatening disease.

Liz and Stephen date in high school, where the book begins, but they go off to different parts of the country for college. Their connection perseveres, and although Liz dreams of living overseas after college, instead she moves to San Francisco to be with Stephen. Stephen has cystic fibrosis (CF); chances are slim he will live past 35. If she does not move towards him at this point in her life, she might not get another chance. Travel will be there later. And so they grow up together, in the Bay Area and Boston, and Scarboro does a masterful job chronicling both their love and the challenges of living with, and loving someone, with CF. Although Stephen lives a fairly “normal” life, he struggles with his health and shortly after Liz moves to San Francisco both of his lungs collapse. She deftly recounts Stephen’s stays in the hospital, consultations with doctors and what it means to consider a lung transplant. Together they go through the ups and downs of his disease, and even when life is stable, Stephen is in so much pain that he eventually becomes addicted to painkillers. Through it all, they make a life together.

This is sad story, but Scarboro beckons the reader into her life and heart in such an open way that by the end of the book I felt like she and Stephen were my friends, and I fought back the tears as I knew his end was near. This story is also a window into human hope, the resiliency of the human heart, and what we will do to stay alive, and keep our loved ones alive. And although this is at times a difficult read, and possibly not for those who have any kind of medical anxiety, I was completely drawn in to this beautiful book.

Scarboro has published novels for children and continues to live in the Bay Area. Library Journal listed My Foreign Cities as one of the best memoirs of 2013 and the SF Chronicle put it on their top 100 list for 2013. She recently published an essay in the Huffington Post about being a widow.

I downloaded this book and read it on my Kindle. Thanks to JW for telling me about this amazing memoir!





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