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English department

One Hundred Names for Love
by Diane Ackerman

Book lovers around the world today are no strangers to love stories. Some of these tales may be as passionate and romantic as Jane Austen’s works. Others could be as sensual as books like the Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer. And some could be as poetic as Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare. No matter how legendary or sweet a romantic narrative may be, no love story comes remotely close to the authenticity and the spirituality of Diane Ackerman’s memoir entitled One Hundred Names for Love: A Marriage, a Stroke, and the Language of Healing. Diane tells the story of her husband, Paul West, and how she rose to the occasion when a massive stroke that he suffered in 2006 handicapped him for an indefinite period and robbed him of his extensive vocabulary, something he had prided himself on for nearly his whole life. But as she learns to have patience with his incapability and cope with a seemingly dark future, what started as a dreary tale soon becomes a story of love, perseverance and hope.

While reading One Hundred Names for Love, I was reminded of something that I had heard a very long time ago; lovers who were meant to live long and happy lives together are lovers that share a language that only they can understand. With Diane and her husband Paul, even after the stroke I could say that this is true of them. This is the kind of book that lovers of all ages can and will enjoy if they read this memoir. If the reader has been [or is currently] married, engaged or in a committed relationship, they will understand Diane’s attachment to her husband and the language of love that often occurs between them and only them. In almost every other page Diane brings up a random memory of her and her husband together, sometimes just laughing together or watching the television or even just talking.

As heart wrenching a tale as it was, One Hundred Names for Love also had a handful of shortcomings. Having never been in a relationship or dated anyone in my life,

I constantly found myself having a hard time relating to Diane as I was reading through the pages. Another low point of the story is that the pacing is very slow in the beginning, where Diane describes nearly every detail of what happened to her and her husband after the stroke, including her thoughts, feelings, and what Paul would say about his experience later on when everything was said and done. And because Diane kept going back and quoting her husband on the experience, more than once I found myself thinking “okay, even though it looks hopeless now we already know that he is okay now and just as capable of doing all of the things he could do before as he was in the beginning, so why do I need to keep reading this?”

With the low points of the book comes self-redemption. What Diane lacked in a good sense of pacing the story, she made up for with beautiful—and sometimes comedic—metaphors that kept my attention as I read her story. For example, she opens with her husband being in the hospital for a kidney surgery, and on the very first page she describes all of the tubes being stuck into his body as “a jellyfish with long tentacles, not really a fish at all but a gelatinous animal full of hidden symmetries, as well as lagoons and sewers, and lots of spongy and stringy bits. But mainly salt water. Lugging tubes and cables, he had joined the hospital’s bloom of deep-sea creatures.” And even though I was unable to relate to Diane’s story since I had never dated or been in a committed relationship before, the story still gave me advice and showed that commitment and perseverance are two of the qualities that make a relationship work. There will be times where somebody would want to give up when things are not going smoothly, but Diane’s story shows that if you really love someone, you have to commit to it no matter what. So while I was unable to look at the story and say “I know exactly what she had gone through,” I can still look back on the reading experience and say “I could really learn from Diane’s experiences and put what I learn to practice in the future.”