Let’s talk about a memoir, shall we?
It’s been a bit since I’ve done a book review. With the end of the semester, the student group I advise, and with setting up my summer, it’s been a busy time.
But I’m back with a review! And I’m psyched that for this review, I’m writing about my friend Jasminne Mendez’s newest book, Nightblooming Jasmi(n)ne: Personal Essays and Poetry.
As always the summary, curiosity of Amazon:
For Jasminne Méndez, pericardial effusion and pericarditis are not just an abnormal accumulation of fluid and increased inflammation around the heart. It’s what happens when you stifle the tears and pain of a miscarriage, infertility and chronic illness for so long that your heart does the crying for you until it begins to drown because its tears have nowhere to go.
Diagnosed with scleroderma at 22 and lupus just six years later, her life becomes a roller coaster of doctor visits, medical tests, and procedures. Staring at EKG results that look like hieroglyphics, she realizes that she doesn’t to want to understand them: The language of a life lived with chronic illness is not something I want to adapt to. I cannot let this hostile vocabulary hijack my story.
The daughter of Dominican immigrants, Méndez fought for independence against her overly-protective parents, obtaining a full scholarship to college, a dream job after school and a master s degree shortly thereafter. But the full-time job with medical insurance doesn’t t satisfy her urge to write and perform, so she leaves it in search of creative fulfillment. In this stirring collection of personal essays and poetry, Méndez shares her story, writing about encounters with the medical establishment, experiences as an Afro-Latina and longing for the life she expected but that eludes her.
So, full disclosure, Jasminne is a good friend of mine. I admire her as a person, a writer, and a fellow Afro-Latina, so I was excited to read this book. I actually got an early digital copy to prepare for an interview with her for the podcast InkWell. It’s definitely worth a listen. Jasminne also reads a couple of selections from the book. Check it out below.
Let’s start by saying that this for me what like reading my friend’s diary. Jasminne and I became friends toward the end of the brunt of her symptoms. Wait! Don’t say that it’s over. With chronic illness, there’s not an ending per say. And that’s one of the gems of this memoir, the learning curve is quick and visceral. Jasminne takes the reader on a narrative journey, life right before the illness and right into the heart of it. Through doctors visits, marrying the love of her life, and the symptoms that result in life and body alterations, these are the ups and downs of living with chronic illness.
What’s surprising (but not really surprising if you talk to Jasminne about it ) is that there is no nostalgia here. There is pragmatism. But there is also hurt and pain. However, glory does come in the quiet spaces.
This memoir uses creative nonfiction and poetry masterfully. As discussed in the podcast, the goal of every writer despite their genre is to become a master storyteller. Jasminne sharpens her tools on the flint of her chronic illnesses. She uses narrative nonfiction to keep the pacing and for movement of the storyline, what a traditional memoir does. However, poetry is for exploration. It doesn’t stop the pacing but takes a deeper dive, telling the reader that moments deserve to be observed, understood, and taken in by a form of osmosis. Jasminne’s pain becomes the reader’s pain. Her anger, the reader’s anger. Her new vocabulary, the one she learned as she sought more information on her illness, is now the reader’s vocabulary. And as her skin tights and fluid fill her heart, the reader becomes breathless.
One of the toughest parts for me was the story of her miscarriage. I am infertile, and it’s a topic Jasminne as I have discussed. The pain of losing a life as her took drastic changes not only makes the reader break down but assume the fetal position with grief. And like the rest of the memoir, this isn’t nostalgic which adds to the heartbreak.
Listen, I was obviously going to tell you to buy my friend’s book, but this is a story that needs to be read. This memoir will not only deepen your understanding of chronic illness but the impact it has on lives, expectations, and how life takes form despite challenges. What is it like to fight through this? What is it like to win? What does winning look like for someone with chronic illness? In short, what is it like to bloom despite it all? Jasminne Mendez knows and she continues to battle through it. This book is a big body shot against the illness and its mystique.
Enjoy the read,