Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The Unwinding Of The Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams

The Unwinding Of The Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams
Published by Transworld tomorrow, the 14th February 2019.

My 2nd read for my 2019 New Release Challenge

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Born blind in Vietnam, Julie Yip-Williams narrowly escaped euthanasia at the hands of her grandmother, only to have to flee the political upheaval of the late 1970s with her family. Loaded into a rickety boat with three hundred other refugees, Julie made it to Hong Kong and, ultimately, America, where a surgeon gave her partial sight. Against all odds, she became a Harvard-educated lawyer, with a husband, a family, a life. Then, at the age of thirty-seven, with two little girls still at home, Julie was diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer, and a different journey began.

Growing out of a blog Julie kept for the last four years of her life, The Unwinding of the Miracle is the story of a vigorous life told through the prism of imminent death, of a life lived vividly and cut too short. With glorious humour, bracing honesty and the cleansing power of well-deployed anger, her story is inspiring and instructive, delightful and shattering. More than just a tale about cancer, it's about truth and honesty, fear and pain, our dreams, our jealousies. And it's about how to say goodbye to your children and a life you love.

Starting as a need to understand the disease, it has evolved into a powerful story about living - even as Julie put her affairs in order and prepared to die.

My Mum died from lung cancer in 2013. The first we knew that she had the disease was the diagnosis of a brain tumour about a year and a half before. Mum was a keen reader, which is no doubt where I get my bookworm tendencies from, and the particular cruelty of her cancer was that it destroyed her language capability early on. Mum could imagine what she wanted to say to us, but the words she spoke came out so wrong that we couldn't understand her. We could see when she was in pain or tired, but we never really knew how Mum felt. Reading Julie's memoir now has helped me to envisage elements that might also have been part of my Mum's experience. Admittedly Julie's daughters were thirty years younger than Mum's, but I am sure that her fierce love and dedication to us were just the same.

The Unwinding Of The Miracle starts with the shocking statement that if someone is reading Julie's words then she must be dead. This memoir was never intended to be published as such while she was alive. That sharply focused my mind on what was to come and this is almost completely a memoir about cancer - fighting it, coping with its effects, and coming to terms with its aftermath. Surprisingly, it is not a depressing read. There is sadness, of course, and extreme anger and a myriad of other emotions, but there is also a very real sense of the need to make the most of every moment. Julie and her family savour little happinesses in a way that those of us not faced with a terminal diagnosis might often overlook. It's a habit that we shouldn't need to be reminded to practice, but is one that becomes swamped with everyday minutiae. For Julie, her surviving a harrowing boat journey from Vietnam to Hong Kong was a miracle; as was the fact that she wasn't euthanised at two months old due to her blindness; as was the sparking of new life at her conception. Julie wasn't religious in the sense of any particular tradition, but she fervently believed that every life is miraculous and I think her encouragement for each one of us to seize that for ourselves is the strongest idea I shall retain from reading her inspirational memoir.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Julie Yip-Williams / Biography and memoir / Books from Vietnam


  1. This sounds good but I have to be in the right frame of mind as already I am crying just reading your review.

    1. Absolutely true. This is a very emotional memoir and so brave of Julie to have written so honestly

  2. Oh wow, this is going to be such an emotional book to read and I... I'm going to have to wait until I have the stomach for it. It's going to hit me hard.

    I know it has been years since your mother passed, but I am so sorry that she was lost to lung cancer <3