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Keywords: Memoir, cancer, Li Fraumeni Syndrome

Title: For The Love of George

Author: Irene Kappes

Publisher: New Paradigm Publishing Ltd

ISBN: 978-1502741486

 

Irene Kappes is a natural storyteller and draws us into the life of a family in the midst of a crisis of terrible proportions. A story of the love and anguish felt for a precious son/step-son ('Dad' and 'Mum's') and his terrible disease. The tragedy is of course that this is not a fictitious story but an articulate and deeply poignant account of one family's very real journey into an unrelenting battle with cancer.

The scene is set with a description of the family and how it came to be. From the start we know that Dad's first wife died of cancer and not long after her passing came the news that George, a toddler at the time, had also developed this wretched disease. Enter Irene into the family - something the reader ultimately feels impelled to give thanks for. Together they provide a blanket of love and support for each other, for George, his sister and later a new brother.

Irene writes with almost unbearable honesty, giving the reader an insight into each person's pain, without ever getting bogged down in sentimentality as George's disease progresses with indecent haste. She doesn't court our sympathy but has it unquestionably by exposing us to the family's rising anxiety, pain and searching, as they struggle to find a cure.

Throughout, George's own voice and character shine through as we read his emails, written in the third person, as if the first person is a step too far in acknowledging the disease. His big heart and capacity to grab life is wondrous and one can only stand in awe of this young man, on the brink of adulthood with all the excitement of a teenager's hopes and dreams ahead of him. It is testament to his extraordinary makeup but a tribute too to Dad and Mum and the family who love and cherish him without ever smothering him.

There are little descriptions which temporarily, lighten the story, such as the arrival of their dog, Flash, and the engaging theme of George's delight in all things culinary, which runs the length of the book (but which ends ultimately in heart-breaking circumstances when he no longer finds joy in food on account of the growth of further tumours in his throat.) These details, along with hair-raising, snow-bound journeys to visit Irene's mother; vignettes of the siblings' trips into Kingston for coffee and pizza; cameos of trips to Southwold, are the minutiae of daily living, a reaching out for normality in less than normal circumstances. They give readers a chance to take a breath and regroup as they too prepare for what feels like the inevitable conclusion.

When the reader thinks the picture can get no worse, knowing all the while it will, the stark reality of a young life, George's life, ending, becomes a reality. The unutterable sadness when George finally can fight no more is palpable and it is expressed with simplicity and dignity.

This is a story is about George's illness, but it is also the most extraordinary account of the love between siblings; between grandchild and grandparents; nephew and aunt and uncle; between parents themselves and ultimately between parents and their children. All these relationships are special but the most touching and beautiful in George's story is of one dad's love for his son. The power and strength that binds Dad and George as they cross continents in search of a healing of the cancer is perfectly described.

This is a personal story but one which will resonate for any family faced with challenges that seem insurmountable. Anxiety and grief cause many partnerships to crumble - families to fragment and disintegrate - but in Irene's story she gives eloquent expression to the fight for survival. Mum, as Irene is known throughout the book, well and truly earns the soubriquet as she sets about fiercely protecting and fighting for her family.

This is an insightful and moving record of a young life well lived, with each chapter underscored by the overwhelming courage and optimism of George himself.

But 'life goes on' indeed as Irene observes at the end of the book. It does in the form of the school award dedicated to the memory of George; the trust set up to support other individuals and families afflicted by Li Fraumeni Syndrome; by the family's quest to 'join up the dots? until the good things in life grow and fill your world'

Review © Jenny Wilson 2014. Published November 10 2014