REVIEW: Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Memoir, Pages: 128, Level: Intermediate

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

On June 8, 2010, while on a book tour for his bestselling memoir, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens was stricken in his New York hotel room with excruciating pain in his chest and thorax. As he would later write in the first of a series of award-winning columns for Vanity Fair, he suddenly found himself being deported “from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.” Over the next eighteen months, until his death in Houston on December 15, 2011, he wrote constantly and brilliantly on politics and culture, astonishing readers with his capacity for superior work even in extremis.

Throughout the course of his ordeal battling esophageal cancer, Hitchens adamantly and bravely refused the solace of religion, preferring to confront death with both eyes open. In this riveting account of his affliction, Hitchens poignantly describes the torments of illness, discusses its taboos, and explores how disease transforms experience and changes our relationship to the world around us. By turns personal and philosophical, Hitchens embraces the full panoply of human emotions as cancer invades his body and compels him to grapple with the enigma of death.

MORTALITY is the exemplary story of one man’s refusal to cower in the face of the unknown, as well as a searching look at the human predicament. Crisp and vivid, veined throughout with penetrating intelligence, Hitchens’s testament is a courageous and lucid work of literature, an affirmation of the dignity and worth of man.

I want to stray from the review for just a moment. Hitchens comments on reactions to the news that he had cancer and included this quote in his book:

“Who else feels Christopher Hitchens getting terminal throat cancer [sic] was God’s revenge for him using his voice to blaspheme him? Atheists like to ignore FACTS. They like to act like everything is a “coincidence.” Really? It’s just a “coincidence” [that] out of any part of his body, Christopher Hitchens got cancer in the one part of his body he used for blasphemy? Yeah, keep believing that, Atheists. He’s going to writhe in agony and pain and wither away to nothing and then die a horrible agonizing death, and THEN comes the real fun, when he’s sent to HELLFIRE forever to be tortured and set afire.”

While I wish Hitchens had included where this was posted, I have no doubt it is accurate; I am curious as to which website this is. I have read many atheist comments that the loud fanatics are not as much a problem as are the silent moderates. I can’t honestly say I have ever been accused of being a silent moderate by anyone who knows me well. While I have no significant platform, I will speak up nonetheless- This is mean. As I have said numerous times, having the right to do something doesn’t mean you should do it and this quote is a perfect example to illustrate my point. You can almost hear the glee in the post, and it makes it all the more sad that it comes from a Christian who supposedly preaches love and kindness. I say this now and would say it to the author’s face- This is not okay.

I found Hitchens to be quite passionate and brutally honest about his trials. He gives the reader plenty of detail about his condition and side effects of treatment, writes about others’ reactions, and shares how some of his attitudes changed as a result. For example, his opinion of the saying, “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” has changed a bit. In spite of all that, the Hitchens humor that I hear in every speech, debate and interview I have watched also appears in Mortality.

Finally, Hitchen’s wife claims that he was an impossible act to follow. I beg to differ; she does quite well in the Afterword. The last two paragraphs are a beautiful tribute to Christopher Hitchens’ life; they are my favorite part of the entire book.

Just a warning to believers and the religious: If you don’t know who Christopher Hitchens is, be warned. Hitchens is an atheist and he frequently mocks believers in his speeches and debates, especially the religious. It doesn’t bother me. If it bothers you, maybe you should skip this book. However, I do recommend you let it go because Mortality is so good and I truly think you are missing out if you don’t read it. It’s short; give it a try.

Reviewed by Christina

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