Description (from Goodreads):
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.
A few days ago, I had to put my cat to sleep. She meant a lot to me, and after it was done I couldn’t help but think about that instant where she was a breathing, sentient lady, and the next, when she was just a shell of organic compounds, laying there with eyes that no longer could see. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the death of another, but in Mortality, Hitchens takes it a step further by mediating at length on his own impending end, due to stage four esophageal cancer. Not that I can really compare the death of my cat with the death of Christopher Hitchens, but reading this book right now seemed appropriate.
This is a very short book, but with a subject as dark and universal as our own mortality, I don’t think it is necessary to linger longer. If we focus only on our impending deaths, we forget to enjoy our current lives. However, I do think it is important to approach the subject from time to time because a) death comes for us all and better to know your enemy, and b) it makes living that much more valuable to know that someday it will be taken from us. Hitchens’ voice in this is clear as a bell, until the last chapter, which remained unfinished and fragmentary due to his death. And as much as he knew he was going to die, reading this makes me wonder if he ever truly could wrap his mind around it until the final moment.
As grim as it was, reading Mortality actually helped. Hitchens brings forth the irony and humor of the horrors he went through, and even though he no longer believed that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, the strength of his final writings show that he continued to live, even while dying.