One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing
By Diane Ackerman
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
I have read none of Diane Ackerman’s more than twenty books, and although I had heard of her previously, I knew nothing about her. The title of this book intrigued me when I first encountered it, and the subtitle hooked me — especially the part that reads "the language of healing."
Diane Ackerman is an exceptionally good writer and one could read this book just to enjoy her way with words. She creates language landscapes that not only put you into wonderful environments but make you feel her emotions and experience her passions.
Another aspect of her writing style is the way she tells stories. They are so specific and rich that they carry the you along effortlessly and joyously. You begin to wish, as you read, that her stories would just go on and on without end — you get consumed in her verbal artistry.
So far I have said nothing of the story she tell of her husband (18 years her senior), Paul West. It is heartbreaking, endearing, and compassionate. You cannot read this book without experiencing — without moving through — the entire palate of reactions, sentiments, instinctual responses, and powerful, overwhelming emotions. You get swept up by her descriptions and illustrations.
I loved the way Ackerman describes things: "Fortunately," she writes, "despite his left-hemisphere stroke (which too often results in severe depression, anger, or both), and a near-death pneumonia of ten months ago, he seems altogether happier than before, living more in the moment, grateful to be alive. Our life is different, but sweet, often devolving into hilarious charades as he tries to pin a word down, like a lepidopterist with a handful of oysters. Such funny word combinations can spill from an aphasic’s mouth! So our days together still include many frustrations, but once again revolve around much laughter and revelry with words" (p. 297).
Also, a special feature of the book is the way Ackerman has done her homework. You learn so much about stokes and the devastation they cause. You learn about the various parts of the brain and their functions. You learn, too, what the benefits of neuroplasticity can be — nerve cells in the brain can regenerate through intensive training, exhaustive guidance, vigorous concentration, and inordinate patience. The book is a testament to the rigors of recovery.
Needless to say, I loved this book — even though it is painful to go through with Ackerman all that she experienced — it makes you think, consider the deep and important emotional ties we have to each other, and, most of all, it makes you weigh and consider the value of everyday life and how we must make the most of all that we have been given — now, right now, before it is too late. As it turns out, there are many languages of healing, not the least of which are devotion and love.