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"...only a writer with Wesolowska's enormous talents could render her tale with such intelligence and grace, bracing honesty and even humor."
—Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
"Wesolowska's spare, poetic prose and clear-eyed, unflinching storytelling persuade us from the opening sentence that this is a journey worth taking."
Zoe Carter Fitzgerald, SF Chronicle
“I can’t imagine anyone better equipped to do full justice to such a profound human experience.”
-- Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours
"We have never needed this book more..."
--Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying
Summary of Holding Silvan
In the opening of Holding Silvan, Monica Wesolowska gives birth to her first child, a healthy-seeming boy who is taken from her arms for “observation” when he won’t stop crying. Within days, Monica and her husband have been given the grimmest of prognoses for Silvan. They must make a choice about his life. The story that follows is not of typical maternal heroism. There is no medical miracle here. Instead, we find the strangest of hopes. In clear and unflinching prose, this startling memoir bears witness not only to a son’s brief life but to the evolution of the writer herself – from Catholic girl yearning after sainthood to maternal struggle to give her son the best she can. The result is a page-turning testimony to the power of love. By raising ethical questions about how a death can be good in the age of modern medicine, Holding Silvan becomes a paean to what makes life itself good. Whether you have faced great loss or not, this book will change your life.
Q & A with the Author
Q. What made you want to write about Silvan?
I didn't really have a choice. As soon as Silvan was born, I started narrating in my head, just to understand what was happening. Words are how I understand. I started keeping a diary while he was alive and then I just kept going.
Q. So the book is based on a diary? How long before you turned the diary into a book?
At first, the diary was just for me. For years, I couldn't even read it. It was just too sad. But then one day, about eight years from his death, I was ready. And what I found in those pages was a gorgeous love story.
Q. If it was based on a diary, how did you manage to make the book readable?
I wrote with one question in mind: Did we love Silvan enough? That question infused every scene. I had to be totally honest with myself, dig deep into my past to understand what I even meant by love. As soon as I found a way to weave Silvan's life with my own past, I knew I had a book that would pull a reader through.
Q. How do you manage to give readings without crying?
The words themselves. They make sense of Silvan's life and death, and they make sense of life and death in general. I find that comforting.
Q. Was writing it cathartic?
It was a gift to spend time with Silvan again. So, yes, I'd say it was cathartic in the first draft. And then I did the hard work of revision, and slowly my own need to tell the story changed. I was no longer telling it for myself but for others and that was a wonderful shift. I knew then I'd written a book worth reading.
Discussion Questions for Your Book Club or Class
1. For many, the topic of Holding Silvan is scary. And yet, most readers say that once they start, they can't put it down. What keeps you reading?
2. In addition to being a story about Silvan, Wesolowska weaves in stories from her childhood. Many of these stories have to do with the way in which we slowly learn about death as we age. What was your first introduction to death as a child and how has your sense of death changed with time?
3. Though Holding Silvan is about a baby, the state of modern medicine is so advanced that many of us have had to make end-of-life decisions about those we love. Were your ideas about a "good death" changed by this book?
4. Most reviewers have said that Holding Silvan is ultimately uplifting. What makes it that way?
5. What image or scene will you most remember? Is it a climactic scene or something smaller? Is it related to Silvan or to some other aspect of Wesolowska's life?
6. How would you describe the voice in this book? Intimate? Honest? What else? How does she achieve these qualities?
7. What other books does this remind you of?
8. Did this book inspire you to put some of your own experiences into writing?