Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
Astounding book that will save lives
on 21 November 2012
Susannah Cahalan's searing, powerful, meticulously-researched book, Brain on Fire, richly deserves a wide audience from the general public and the medical community alike. Brain on Fire is a unique book. First, it is an account of recovery from brain injury by a survivor, which is rare in itself. It is a portrayal of the author's experience of her battle against a mysterious auto-immune illness, but her story is complicated because memory loss means that the author cannot remember the event. Remarkably, Cahalan uses her considerable journalistic skills to piece together her own story from various family accounts, from the archives, from medical files and from recovered CCTV stills.
Cahalan was subsequently diagnosed and was treated for NMDA-Receptor Antibody Encephalitis. Although this form of encephalitis is uncommon it is increasingly diagnosed and treated using modern medical techniques.
This gives Brain on Fire a curiously magical quality: it is at once a very poignant story of a family's love for their daughter and survival against all the odds; the high production values mean that the fast-paced text is interspersed with personal quotes and beautiful illustrations; and yet on another level, the author manages to retain sufficient composure and distance from the subject matter so that as a memoir it still offers a valuable insight into our attitudes to mental illness, brain injury and memory loss.
There is a serious side to this of course. Cahalan has produced the most astounding must-read book of the year for one reason: diagnosing and treating NMDA encephalitis quickly saves lives and improves patient outcomes. In telling her own story, Susannah Cahalan points out that her story is not unique, and she is highlighting the experience of other patients and families who have survived encephalitis. More importantly perhaps, she is doing us all a service by advocating on behalf of those who have yet to be diagnosed. My book of the year.