Culture & Criticism Since 2003
In early spring, I received a query from an author looking to engage me as an editor to work on a slim memoir documenting her recovery from leukemia some 30 years ago. Initially I resisted the request – short on time and wary of setting a poorly informed precedent, I was certain to say no. However, when I took a preliminary read of the text, I simply couldn’t pull the trigger to decline.
Reborn: A True Story of Life and Death is a riveting book for myriad reasons. First and foremost, it provides a real-time testament to the magic that can happen when a novice author with no fundamental knowledge of composition hits on an idea and then lets that idea propel the writing forward. In essence, it’s what Jack Kerouac advocated 75 years ago in his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.” Nonetheless, to make Kerouac’s dictum work, one has to be willing to be completely honest and tell the story in blunt terms without contrivance or artifice. And that’s just what Mercado does here:
“There is no way that a person in my state could understand it, so I tried to find the answers in the only one who knows everything: God. Yet, apparently he didn’t have answers to give me either, because I gained no enlightenment. Being helplessness is unbearable, especially when it comes accompanied by the news that it’s you’re going to die. Being forced to say goodbye to the world and everything one loves and knows is an impossible task. Why me? That was my favorite question, and I clung to it at all hours like a mosquito clinging to fruit.”Page 34
As Reborn tells it, Mercado immigrated to the Untied States from Mexico in the early 1990s. Shortly after arriving, she collapsed cooking breakfast one morning and was subsequently diagnosed with multiple forms of leukemia. The doctors at Stanford prepared her to die, but she beat the odds and survived.
That’s the storyline. But the reach of this book goes far beyond experimental cancer treatments and instead delves into deeper concepts of faith and spirituality in a way that forces the reader to examine their own place in the world:
“But in the end, that pain actually disfigured and then rebuilt my body. After the procedure, my regenerated skin felt soft like that of a newborn and the moment became a metaphor for the spiritual rebirth that was to come. Believe it: The body is wise. It is part of nature and, like the wilds, it finds a way to adapt and survive despite our human fragility.”Page 48
Even though this book relates one woman’s journey about overcoming cancer, it also simultaneously spotlights the universal tale of the immigrant as they stumble through daily life in a new country – unable to speak the language or understand the customs, unable to protect themselves in a universe that often times appears so cold and nefarious:
“And while they all cried, my consciousness wandered onto another plane of reality in which I had become an assiduous walker. In this new world, I was guided by sensations, looking to [first] understand and then end my struggle…”Page 50
Put yourself in the place of the protagonist here: Suddenly in a hospital bed in a new country facing a death-sentence diagnosis – what would you do? How would cope? Could you survive the bitter unknowns? Reborn offers a chance for you to investigate the questions without having to die to do it.