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Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir Paperback – 6 Apr 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (6 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847080758
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847080752
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 76,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"Susan Sontag was fiercely, exuberantly alive, and uncompromising in her life no less than her work. David Rieff's fine, tender, and unflinching portrait of her final illness brings home her absolute determination to survive to the last -- to survive against the odds and live creatively despite a devastating disease and an unproven cancer treatment. At once a report from the frontlines of experimental oncology and a moving, absorbing personal account of his mother's last illness, "Swimming in a Sea of Death" is a courageous and darkly beautiful book." -- Oliver Sacks

About the Author

David Rieff is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of seven previous books, including the acclaimed At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention; A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis; and Slaughterhouse Bosnia and the Failure of the West. He lives in New York City

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I reda alot of books about cancer and illness and have grown a bit blasé. This book however, is worth the read! Critical in the wise and sensitive way and very well written.
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Format: Hardcover
A son writing about his mother's dying. The mother is Susan Sontag, the son a writer. As such you expect this book to be well written, it is. To be a reflection of the blistering honesty that was Susan Sontag. There is a core of looking straight on into the process of dying and the fight to stay alive no matter what. It was difficult to read, although accurately it is a meditation on mortality, death and the process of dying, but does not paint a vivid portrait of the last year of Ms Sontag's life. The portrayal of Ms Sontag remains private in that she is a minefield of no go areas for family and friends. Mr Rieff appears to barely contain disdain for Annie Liebowitz, the photographer and her images Of Susan Sontag's last days. The book reads to me as a description, an intellectual dance of dealing with illness where the participants refuse to accede mortality. "Do not go gentle into that good night" the rage burns so strongly that other competing emotions, grief, compassion, acceptance are subsumed to a sideline or to emerge post death as guilt and incredible sadness of the loss of what might have been said, done and experienced. I was left thinking we all die. We all have conflicting responses to what appears as the last drawn breath before extinction. But from my experience of those going through this process, this book and its attendant philosophy of extinction of ego as the end place was arid. I have seen what Mr Rieff poses as the Buddhist acceptance of the inevitable, enormous dignity and courage and the almost feral battle to hold on to each breath no matter what the cost. Each to their own end and as Mr Rieff rightly identifies, it is something few of us can control in that we all die of something and cancer is certainly one of the hardest something to battle.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 3.1 out of 5 stars 27 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A miss... 26 Jun. 2016
By Peterson - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This story would have made a better long form essay: as a book, the narrative was circular and repetitive; it lacked focus; and it felt devoid of the kind of detail and context that would have brought a better understanding to the reader of Mr. Rieff's and Ms. Sontag's journey through her final illness. The last chapter was quite strong, though; I wish he'd brought that energy to the first 90% of the book. On the other hand, I think that sometimes these kind of memoirs are actually best left unwritten. This is one of those times. Nothing in this memoir is any of my business.
3.0 out of 5 stars Insightful read from a survivor's perspective 1 Aug. 2013
By Roberto de los Santos - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was a touching view into the thoughts and feelings of Sontag's only child, David Rieff, as he accompanied his mother through her third, and final encounter with cancer. While written in sensitive and thoughtful manner, I didn't walk away with feeling as if I knew the woman any better than before reading the book. A good read for someone interested in the impact that this terrible disease can have on a loved one, as well as the sometimes very poignant efforts made by the victim to not give in to the inevitable
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 27 April 2016
By Philippa Collins - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
gracefully written and ultimately shocking in depiction of a son watching his mother resIst death.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars for those who can bear the end 20 May 2013
By Ruff Life - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
for those who can bear the end, the terrible end, of the magnificent american intellectual as witnessed by her son. for those who have seen the end of their own magnificent ones, slowly like this.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious Repetition 30 July 2008
By Mitchell E. Davis - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book takes 180 pages to repeat the same theme over and over:his mother was dying of a blood cancer,and she was in denial about it being incurable.There is little in the way of inspiration or insight since almost the entire book consists of the author's thoughts as he trys to decide whether to foster his mothers unrealistic expectations.Since the book is essentially about the author's thoughts(we hear almost nothing from his mother),we feel more sympathy for him.To make matters worse,the sentences are long and complex,forcing the reader to read and reread them.This book would have been better as a nice short story in a magazine.
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