I am a bit torn over this book. I was eager to read it because I grew up in the early 1950's when polio was a real threat. A neighbor had come down with it, and it was not totally uncommon to see people with twisted legs, using crutches. I had never known anyone who lived in an iron lung, and I was very curious as to how that worked. I thought this book would be an educational experience as far as what a person went through living this way. However, the author really didn't bring much of that into the story at all.
I felt that Mason was an incredible writer. She was certainly able to turn a phrase, and her life was extremely fascinating. While completely paralyzed and living in the iron lung, she never-the-less managed to graduate at the top of her class not only from high school but from college as well. She wrote a very interesting story about her friends and family, and her caretakers, but there simply wasn't much emphasis on what she dealt with. How did she eat? Was it...
I picked this book up after reading "The Virtues of Oxygen" which is a novel inspired by the author Martha Mason. Martha contracted polio at the age of 11 and spent the next 61 years in an iron lung (she died in 2009). She describes her near-idyllic childhood in a small town, full of friends, activity, and mischief. Her older brother, Gaston, contracts polio and dies very soon afterward. Her parents have just buried their son when their daughter contracts the same deadly disease. Given a year to live according to her doctors, she hangs on and lives as fully as possible. She continues school, graduating at the top of her high school class, then goes on to college where she graduates with honors. She credits selfless high school teachers and two-way speaker connections in college classrooms for giving her the opportunity to learn. She also credits her mother, who from the beginning refused to put her daughter in a 'home' but instead took over her 24-hour care, as well as reading...
I loved this book! It's a beautifully written story of personal triumph, but with aspects of southern/regional history (it takes place in North Carolina) and history of medicine and disease. In the latter category, it's a mesmerizing depiction of a time when polio (aka "infantile paralysis") could strike people down without warning and paralyze towns with fear. I read the book by chance while the Ken Burns documentary about the Roosevelts was on TV and hearing details of FDR's victory over polio while reading Martha Mason's very different but no less victorious story was fascinating and profoundly moving.
I was given this book by a cousin who knew Martha Mason and the narrative voice I read in the book is precisely how my cousin spoke of Martha in person--quite an accomplishment in itself! That the voice is eloquent, honest, funny and brave without ever being sanctimonious or otherwise irritating makes this book unforgettable.
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