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""New York Times "BestsellerFirst Lady Michelle Obama's Favorite Book of 2015A "New Yorker, " NPR, "Boston Globe, " "Publisher's Weekly, ""Newsday, Library Journal, "People.com, Shelf Awareness, "The Root," and "St. Louis Dispact "Best Book of 2015 Pick"New York Times Book Review "Editor's ChoiceAn Amazon's Best Book of the Month, April 2015IndieBound Indie Next #1 Pick, May 2015
A deeply resonant" "memoir for anyone who has loved and lost, from acclaimed poet and Pulitzer Prize finalist Elizabeth Alexander.
In THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid price, Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband's death, and the solace found in caring for her two teenage sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss.
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is at once an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community. It is also a lyrical celebration of a life well-lived and a paean to the priceless gift of human companionship. For those who have loved and lost, or for anyone who cares what matters most, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is required reading.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-03-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Poet and Yale African Studies professor Alexander (The Black Interior; Power and Possibility) was devastated by the death of her artist husband, who died of cardiac arrest at age 50 while exercising in the basement of their home. This memoir is an elegiac narrative of the man she loved. Artist and chef Ficre Ghebreyesus’s death was as inexplicable as the spark of love between him and Alexander after they met at a New Haven café in 1996. Ghebreyesus was a thin, fit person who nonetheless smoked; and he was not without his mysteries. For example, in the days before his death, he was obsessed with buying lottery tickets. Ghebreyesus was a gentle, peace-loving East African who had come through the Eritrean-Ethiopian civil war and was a refugee in America; he became a fashionable painter and an inventive chef at Caffe Adulis, which he ran in New Haven with his brothers. Alexander, who grew up in Washington, D.C., describes her husband’s endearing traits such as sleep-talking or singing in his native Tigrinya, and the special rituals he made when their sons reached age 13. Fashioning her mellifluous narrative around the beauty she found in Ghebreyesus, Alexander is grateful, patient, and willing to pursue a fit of magical thinking that he might just return. (Apr.)
A poet reflects on love and loss
In the poem she wrote for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, “Praise Song for the Day,” Elizabeth Alexander asked, “What if the mightiest word is love?” In The Light of the World, her memoir about the sudden death of her husband in 2012, the poet, essayist and playwright renders her own exquisite response. Using her medium of words, she illuminates and lyricizes the life of her mate—the painter and political refugee Ficre Ghebreyesus—and the shattering grief that follows his death at age 50. Her tool is the brush of poetic sensibility, casting her words through the filtering lenses of the African diaspora, the couple’s Eritrean and African-American ancestors, and her own sustaining community. Alexander creates an intimacy that coaxes a transformative empathy from her reader, and she rewards with a profound understanding of love and loss.
Yet, as sudden as Ficre’s death is, Alexander describes her grieving as mercifully graded, an evolution that allows her and their two young sons time to retrieve Ficre’s essence. First, there is the gut-wrenching physicality of the moment of his death, all senses erupting as she sees her lover leave his body behind. In the aftermath, she looks for him in what was once the familiar: Ficre in his garden, among the peonies he planted to bloom on her birthday; Ficre in his studio, where brushes still hold his touch; Ficre in the dishes he created as a popular chef. These comforting remainders—intensely sensual—carry her through that first aching year of widowhood. Finally, she moves her family from suburb to the city, not to flee memory’s hold in the house they all had shared, but to resume the plan the couple once had for their future.
Ficre too will live on because, as promised in Alexander’s poem, “Love beyond marital, filial, national . . . casts a widening pool of light.”