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A powerful, beautifully rendered memoir of chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery.
For as long as author Porochista Khakpour can remember, she has been sick. For most of that time, she didn't know why. Several drug addictions, some major hospitalizations, and over $100,000 later, she finally had a diagnosis: late-stage Lyme disease.
Sick is Khakpour's grueling, emotional journey—as a woman, an Iranian-American, a writer, and a lifelong sufferer of undiagnosed health problems—in which she examines her subsequent struggles with mental illness and her addiction to doctor prescribed benzodiazepines, that both aided and eroded her ever-deteriorating physical health. Divided by settings, Khakpour guides the reader through her illness by way of the locations that changed her course—New York, LA, Santa Fe, and a college town in Germany—as she meditates on the physiological and psychological impacts of uncertainty, and the eventual challenge of accepting the diagnosis she had searched for over the course of her adult life.
A story of survival, pain, and transformation, Sick candidly examines the colossal impact of illness on one woman's life by not just highlighting the failures of a broken medical system but by also boldly challenging our concept of illness narratives.
“Porochista Khakpour’s powerful memoir, Sick, reads like a mystery and a reckoning with a love song at its core. Humane, searching, and unapologetic, Sick is about the thin lines and vast distances between illness and wellness, healing and suffering, the body and the self. Khakpour takes us all the way in on her struggle toward health with an intelligence and intimacy that moved, informed, and astonished me.”
“Sickness, in the world and in the body, is an attempt to flatten the individual, to make it conform to an inflexible name. Porochista Khakpour resists this on every page. Her writing is first of all vibrant, humming, strong, tall, striding. It powers through paper frailties. Survival, she reminds us at the end of Sick, can be an act of the imagination: it is the courage to insist on seeing yourself decades in the future, climbing a mountain, squinting into the sun, sitting down at the desk to write what happened.”
“Porochista Khakpour’s Sick is a bruising reminder and subtle revelation that the lines between a sick human being and a sick nation are often not lines at all. The book boldly asserts that a nation wholly disinterested in what really constitutes ‘health’ will never tend the bodily and emotional needs of its sick and vulnerable. Somehow, Khakpour manages to craft the minutiae of the moments spent keeping herself alive while obliterating what could have easily been written as spectacular melodrama. I’m most amazed at how time itself, and point of view, are ‘sick’ and ‘sickening’ in this wonderful memoir. Khakpour has done more than something I’ve never seen before in this phenomenal book; she’s done something I never imagined possible.”
“I’m so excited for the world (you!) to read Porochista Khakpour’s Sick because now you’ll understand. Understand what it’s like to navigate a broken medical system; understand what chronic illness does to the self; understand the damage that doubt and ignorance can wreck; understand how living and self-destructing, writing and working, loving and sex doesn’t just stop when you’re ill. And for those of you who understand this all too well, this book gives a voice—a fierce, booming, brutally honest voice—to the millions of people silently suffering with invisible illnesses of their own. ‘I always felt broken in my body,’ she writes, and I shudder with recognition. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Porochista for giving so much of yourself in this miraculous memoir. The world is a better place with your book in it.”
“Thank you, Porochista Khakpour, for writing an unflinchingly honest, complicated memoir about living life with Lyme. Sick should be required reading at every medical school!”
“Sick is a riveting plunge into the most profound mysteries of mind and body—the haunted labyrinths of addiction; a chronic illness that mightily resists answers; and, ultimately, a diagnosis that proves just as confounding: late-stage Lyme disease. As Porochista Khakpour works to uncover the roots of the maladies upending her physical and mental health, she raises vital questions that challenge the common perceptions around illness and treatment and recovery. Miraculously, Sick emerges as a force of life.”
“This is a story of towering frustrations written so beautifully that through the weird alchemy of art it ends up lifting the reader’s spirits. You read these elegant sentences and get the elusive click that you get in the presence of the real thing. To the list of brilliant fiction writers penning timeless memoirs—Nabokov, McBride, Wright, Styron, Ward, Gay, both Wolffs, to name a few—we now indelibly add the name Khakpour. Khakpour battles a disease that attacks the quality of one’s life in every way, but perhaps the most poignant element here is the world’s lack of faith in her affliction, so that she faces the double indignity of fighting a fearsome foe on the one hand and arguing for its potency on the other. This is a gripping, moving, thoughtful meditation written at the highest levels of narrative engagement.”
“This is a book that throws me into the time of my own being. I experience Porochista Khakpour’s Sick as an act of radical friendship because nobody should know this much about anybody else unless they love each other and this book, so quotable and well-phrased at absolutely the worst of moments, and there is a lot of ‘worst’ here -- because this is a book of physical suffering, is stalwartly framed by love -- of family and friends and sex and all kinds of partnership as the activist bedrock of health, and finally love of the city too. Born in Tehran, Iranian American author Porochista Khakpour habitually picks New York City as her sanity and her chosen rite of return. Thrumming, diaristic, unabashedly wild and homeless-feeling, Sick is something gut-wrenching and new, a globally intimate book.”
“This memoir is not your traditional illness narrative. Porochista Khakpour threads together a startling tapestry of stories about a young woman seeking place — in the America she flees to as a refugee of Iran, in a medical system that offers her no answers, in the empty promises of pill bottles and dangerous lovers, and ultimately, in the body. Electric, daring and staggeringly honest, Khakpour’s writing takes us to the very edges of what it means to be alive.”
“Sick stages on the page what is at stake for a body under endless siege from addiction, illness, trauma, dislocation and dispossession. The questions emerging from this body story challenge ideas about identity and the too-easy logic of sickness and health, as well as the bi-cultural boundaries of being. What does it mean to be alive inside a raging body? By sharing her body story, Porochista Khakpour gives the reader a profoundly generous gift: an unflinching narrative of the deep desire to live. Sick is a triumph of the imagination as she holds her heart out to you.”
“Readers, writers, and sick people all crave origin stories, and Khakpour tries to serve one up: the first bad decision, the first bad boyfriend, the first childhood trauma? A tick bite in California? Pennsylvania? New York? Which came first, addiction or infection? Then she shows us the oceanic mess that is chronic illness, a story without a clear origin or a neat arc, and we see how it becomes an ongoing presence -- not a narrative at all. We are forced to consider what it must be like to live like this, to leave aside all our illusions of fairness, logic, and control. What a gift.”
“Lucid, eloquent, and unflinchingly honest, Khakpour’s book is not just about a woman’s relationship to illness, but also a remarkably trenchant reflection on personal and human frailty. A courageously intimate memoir about living within a body that has ‘never felt at ease.’”