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on 7 July 2017
This is a collection of essays and random thoughts penned by the acclaimed writer Christopher Hichens during the time between him being diagnosed with incurable esophageal cancer and when he became too ill to write anymore. Understandably it is not an easy book to read, considering the trademark brutal honesty of the author and it certainly should not be recommended as a bed time read to anyone who is suffering from cancer. However it does make one filled with awe at the lucidity with which he wrote knowing what he must have been going through.

Some find it strange that at the end Hitchens was like the rest of us, hoping to be spared, as if this in some way makes him loose his credibility. Why? I fail to understand. Hitchens never claimed he was not afraid of death and for him to write after he realized that he was dying that he was not scared would have been nothing but an act of madness. Hitchens was an atheist and atheists do not have any hope for an afterlife, for them this life is all we have and so it is preposterous to expect an atheist not being afraid of death. And there is nothing wrong with it, what is absurd and ridiculous is seeing the believers wanting to keep on living when having similar illnesses, them praying to be cured and asking others to pray for them, why do they want to live one may ask? Why go through the pain of treatment and cling to life even when it is hard to breath? Shouldn’t they welcome the chance to leave for the land of milk and honey promised to them?

Yes, Hitchens is not afraid to show his fear and anger at dying and about the fact that there is nothing he can do about it, although to be honest he seems to be more afraid of losing his voice and ability to write than death itself.

The book was also something personal to me. My late father who like Hitchens was in his 60 when he passed away due to lymphoma was no writer or intellectual but I could see many personality traits they both shared. The bewilderment, sense of being helpless, acceptance and yet hope for a miracle cure and through it all a stoic sense of humor is clearly seen in the writings of Hitchens and my personal observance of my father while he struggled with cancer (as Hitchens suggests I would not use fought with cancer since no one fights with cancer). My father never claimed to be an atheist yet I never saw him praying to God on his knees asking to be cured, I never saw him asking others to pray for him, not even those who were going on pilgrimage to Mecca. And as Hitchens widow Carol Blue writes in the epilogue to the book the end when it came was unexpected just like my father for he was fine days before he died.

In the end I guess we need to see things in perspective for there is a good chance that unless we drop dead suddenly we will face the possibility of what Hitchens calls the period of dying. Rich or poor, famous or unknown hardly makes a difference at such a time for all share the wish to live a little longer and fear the thought of not seeing those they love anymore. Even among believers I doubt anyone except a fanatic dies anticipating the eternal life that awaits them. The best we can hope for is to be able to die with dignity. To quote Faiz:

Jis dhaj se koi maqtal mein gaya, woh shan salamat rahti hai,,,,
Yeh jan to aani jani hai, is jan ki koi baat nahi.

The grace with one faces death is what lives after us
Life itself is fleeting and cannot be relied upon
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on 9 November 2012
Hitchens has had a profound effect on me since I discovered him just three years ago. To say I am sad he is no longer around to write and debate in his inimitable style would be to understate stupendously. In Mortality he gives the reader an insight into his mind whilst terminally ill, muses about the process of dying and death itself and discusses his very personal experiences; all underpinned, of course, with references to literature.

As you would no doubt expect, given his reputation and credentials, he introduces religion into the text a number of times but doesn't belabour it. There's his usual mentions of Socrates, Nietzsche and others, but it's the fact that he's writing a lot about himself and his then present situation that I found most appealing.

The afterword by his widow is subtle and moving, deliberately avoiding the all-too-easily made mistake of being overly emotional. There are also a number of notes that he made when undergoing treatment and during hospital stays that give you a tease of his mental character during these very difficult times. If you're a fan of Christopher, you'll likely enjoy this book. It's just a pity it isn't as long as he hoped he would be able to make it.
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on 29 August 2016
A very poignant read. Read it from start to finish in one go.....very sad and funny in equal measures. A serious talent was Mr. Hitchens and only he could have wrote this book. Brilliant.
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on 1 February 2017
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on 16 May 2017
good read
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on 7 July 2017
Why had I not read anything of his before. Such a way with words.
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on 26 April 2017
My hero who has left us bereft of his genius to soon
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It comes as no surprise that one of the most remarkable troublemakers and polemicists this country has ever produced didn't leave without having a few important things to say. The late great Christopher Hitchens used the pages of Vanity Fair during his full frontal battle against a tumor in his esophagus to apply the maxim of Dylan Thomas to "rage, rage against the dying of the light". But you also sense throughout the pages of "Mortality", a book collecting those very special essays, that Hitchens instinctively felt that this was one argument he wasn't going to win. As such his tangle with death is a level headed but poignant dalliance with the slow degradation of a body which graphically charts the "wager" with chemotherapy taking "your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest and the hair on your head". He is painfully honest and reflective throughout about his predicament not least the "gnawing sense of waste" and the reality of becoming an early "finalist in the race of life". Yet it wouldn't be Hitchens if the opportunity for settling some old scores was not taken and in particular his restatement of his vociferous views on atheism despite the fact that September 20th 2010 was designated by one religious website in the States as "Everyone pray for Hitchens day".

Others were less charitable for in some quarters the onset of Hitchens illness produced a vicious form of schadenfreude not least amongst his many enemies in the US Christian right where his strong opinions on religion had provoked and outraged those not prepared to countenance any debate. He quotes an opinion from an American religious blog that viewed his throat cancer as "Gods revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him". Undoubtedly genuine Christians would find such a view repugnant and in any case Hitchens would have no truck with such nonsense. In his autobiography "Hitch 22" he was candid about a lifestyle that some described as "convivial" while others thought "excessive" a better term. He argued alternatively that a cigarette permanently locked in his hand and the love of a "second bottle" were as much sources of inspiration for his writing as his limited repertoire of heroes particularly hie love of Tom Paine and George Orwell. He knew the source of his problems but that is not the point of this book. It is in essence a slow diary of his journey through ""Tumortown" its excruciating levels of pain, the corresponding fatalism and resignation, its false hopes and eventual knock out blow. There are brilliant passages on figures as diverse as Leonard Cohen, and Nietzsche, a retelling of the waterboarding torture which Hitchens endured to attack the Bush administration with a searing polemic and finally the weariness at the offerings of possible cancer cures. `You sometimes feel that you may expire from sheer ADVICE", he exclaims in frustration.

This short book concludes with a chapter of fragmentary jottings which are in every sense the most affecting part of the book. The broken phrases and quotes show a mind that thinks deeply, still questioning, still at work and debating until the very last. This is despite of "Chemo-brain. Dull, stuporous" and fears that this "lavish torture is only the prelude to a gruesome execution". Hitchens also brilliantly unearths a quote from Saul Bellow which argues with simple insight that "death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything". Christopher Eric Hitchens was a man who did his fair share of seeing not least on his many travels to chart despotism and dictatorship and to rally against it with clarity not heard since George Orwell. He also always had the right words even when he was fundamentally wrong and the best of his writings are furiously brilliant, deserving the widest readership whether you agree with him or not. Hitchens died on 15th December 2011, and this the book concludes with a tender "Afterword" from his widow Carol Blue. At one point in "Mortality" the author quotes Horace Mann's observation that "Until you have done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die". In the case of the sadly lamented and much missed Christopher Hitchens there was no need to worry about this, he did more than enough.
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on 19 July 2014
A slim volume of 95 pages by CH with 9 pages of foreword by Graydon Carter and 9 of afterword by CH's wife Carole Blue. Slim, but as always with CH, quality triumphs over quantity. He discovers he has been invaded by a virulent form of cancer. He describes it as an alien. The writing flows with rich irony and humour in his search for insight, information and understanding of the alien. For me the beauty, value and challenge of CH's writing is to read and re-read his sentences until I comfortably feel I am moving at his speed and journeying through the richness of his ideas and perceptions. This book is no exception. I did not see, at all, CH as describing his 'pain' as a cancer sufferer, although of course he does describe painful periods. I felt throughout that he was meeting the alien head on and journeying with it as it took him from the country of the well across a border to the land of the malady. He rejects Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's stage theory that posits the stages we go through when we are confronted by death, betrayal and taxes - denial, rage etc. I laughed out loud (ish) when he contemplated the dumb question 'Why me?' and the cosmos (the abyss?) barely bothered to reply "Why not you?" I will not say sadly missed because ..... it goes without saying.
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on 31 May 2014
Most of us have had contact with cancer in our lives - we've either experienced it firsthand or know (or known) a family member or friend who has had it - and in each instance it's been horrible, an experience unlikely to provide you with much and likely to take a lot from you, if not everything. But most of us aren't Christopher Hitchens - if fact none of us are, and that's why we know who was. He was a unique voice whose essays, columns, articles, and books made the person reading them much more enriched having read them.

"Mortality" is his last book (though I'm sure further anthologies of unpublished material will appear in the years ahead) detailing his fatal encounter with esophageal cancer, from discovering it while on a book tour promoting his memoir "Hitch 22", to the final pages which are scraps of notes for future (and now forever unwritten) writings.

But it's not a sad book. Hitchens was ruthless in his approach to subjects and he is no less so when dealing with himself and "the alien" (which is how he characterises his cancer) - no sentimentality or feeling sorry for himself is allowed on the page.

He is informative, funny, and stubborn all at once when writing on the reaction among religious groups when news of his cancer was reported with some Christians instigating a "Pray for Hitch" day - a day he encourages everyone to ignore. He also reinforces his atheist position, almost aggressively, writing "What if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating." As if he wanted to die to once more further his argument that there is no God! If this book shows anything it is that death and the prospect of death does not change the person, and that Hitchens remained dignified and his own person right to the end.

There are essays on coping with the cancer treatment which is almost as bad as the cancer, and a fantastic piece on Nietzsche and the etymology of the phrase "whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger". The book is full of rich writing displaying a luminous and inquisitive mind, questioning death, the mundanity of illness, and moving from issues of existence to anecdotes of past columns such as the time he underwent waterboarding to experience how bad a torture it is (very bad as it turns out, traumatising in fact).

Also included is a foreword by Hitchen's editor at Vanity Fair Graydon Carter and a moving afterword by his wife Carol Blue. Our culture lost a brilliant mind on December 15, 2011, and "Mortality" is a fine coda to a man who lived life fearlessly and wrote some of the best reportage of the last 50 years. Christopher Hitchens remains an essential writer to read.
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