Journey to the Edge of the Light

journey-coverdropcap-she was a romantic and a globetrotter, a daredevil and a writer on the edge of literary fame. Then her life was irreversibly transformed—and so was her philosophy.

In this wholly unexpected personal account, the author of A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-first Century (2009) offers us a Vindication of Life as inspiring as it is heartbreaking.

The story of Cristina and her little daughter, Eurydice, is a tale of redemption and self-reinvention. It is about expanding definitions of love–and it is about confronting death. Not least, it speaks to us of life’s sweeping ironies: Sometimes bad luck is the new good luck, and the realization of your worst fears may be the greatest gift you can receive.

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Amazon Reader Reviews

“This is unquestionably the most beautiful book I have ever read. I sat and read it on my iPhone in one sitting, leaving my dogs unwalked and chicken unroasted! I felt as though I was living alongside Cristina and Eurydice; from their wild, carefree life together, restricted only by flight schedules, to their long, solitary, incarceration in an American hospital room. In contrast to the seriousness of Eurydice’s illness; colour, love and joy burst from the pages. I have written a book; as an amateur – I look on this book in awe! A compulsive read.”

Annabel Tall

“This is an impossibly brave story of motherhood, illness, near loss, and transformative love. It speaks in the most straightforward way about the heart-rending circumstances of Nehring’s single-motherhood, her daughter’s illness, hospitalization and tenuous recovery. But it is really a story of the passionate, redemptive, love that is motherhood. In a sea of writing about how hard and isolating mothering can be, this book never complains, never self-pities, never asks “why me?” Instead, it shows us motherhood in an extreme crucible. Stripped of everything but the most essential relation of mother and child, Nehring’s book shows just how transformative motherhood can (and should?) be–for mother as well as child. In the end, this is not really an illness memoir but a story with universal relevance about how the author meets the most extreme demands of motherhood with great courage, grace, perspective, creativity. This really, for me, is what motherhood is all about. Or should be.”

Lisa C. Harper

“Cristina Nehring’s ‘Journey to the Edge of the Light’ is a poignant, probing, and profound memoir about her infant daughter’s fight for life. In a month when Americans, inspired by Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,’ are re-examining how they interact with their children, Nehring’s essay asks altogether more vital questions.

Single-parent Nehring’s daughter, Eurydice, was 18-months-old when she was diagnosed with leukaemia. At the time, Nehring had published her first book, ‘A Vindication of Love,’ to wide acclaim. But this acclaim would be overshadowed by Nehring’s new career – being a stay-at-home mom to Eurydice. The `home’ in question – an isolation room at UCLA Children’s Hospital in California.

With terrifying eloquence, Nehring describes the seven-months she lived on a pull-out chair next to the crib of her suffering child. Through this period of not knowing what would happen next, Nehring knew one thing: that she loved her daughter, and that she could not live without her.

As an award-winning essayist for Harper’s, the Nation, and the Atlantic Monthly, Nehring came to prominence interrogating conventional wisdom and scrutinizing social norms. But it was when she had a child of her own that her expectations were truly upended. `Where I could have expected a long-limbed, light-haired, oval-faced, oversensitive little elf,’ she writes in ‘Journey,’ `I had on my hands a short-limbed, dark-curled, spherical Buddha of a babe whose soft, steady gaze was like the still eye of a storm.’

Later Nehring describes Eurydice as `unintimidated, omnivorously curious, effusively affectionate, observant, ingratiating, utterly unroutinized and altogether trusting.’ Nehring’s prose is, too, omnivorously curious, observant, affectionate, but always honest and unintimidated.

With heartbreaking accuracy, she depicts the constant, chemical nightmare of hospital life. `One of the most jarring parts about accompanying your child into the hospital is witnessing the near-instant takeover of her body by medical technology. Eurydice had not been in isolation 24 hours when she was wheeled into surgery and emerged with a garish incision in her flawless infant’s chest out of which dangled two outsize tubes. … And into them, starting the next day, was funnelled the poison that doctors believed was Eurydice’s strongest prayer of staying alive.’

In spite of this, ‘Journey’ is neither misery-memoir nor sob story. It is a narrative of tender reflection and honest appraisal, of awareness, affirmation, and, ultimately, optimism. During her time in hospital, Nehring evaluates anew what matters most in life.

Nehring’s prose is infused with wit and warmth. `It is tempting to take up permanent residence in gray sweatpants,’ Nehring writes of her introduction to hospital life. `Not Eurydice and me. With each passing month, I dressed my baby girl in more vibrant violets and reds, golds and greens, oranges and electric blues. Resistance through color, I called it in my head.’

She vows to defeat the darkness of disease with a `conflagration of color.’ Her prose is similarly flashing in its insight and analysis. Like Susan Sontag, Nehring has the capacity to delineate disease as both a destructive reality and an elusive, almost mythical concept that resists interpretation. She mines through metaphor to uncover the often unspoken truth of cancer survivors. About chemo she is shockingly candid. `Chemo is Russian Roulette. You’re shooting a gun whose contents you don’t exactly know. There are bullets that pass through the target unnoticed. There are bullets that kill the organism altogether.’

In one of the strongest passages of the essay, Nehring takes issue with the writer Christopher Hitchens, who has said that cancer should not be conceived of as a battle. Cancer is absolutely a battle, Nehring tells us, one that we need to win, as much through affirmation and encouragement as through medical treatment.

In its ability to clarify, instruct, and inspire, Nehring’s prose is in itself a kind of medicine. She writes movingly of `the power of a love enlarged by affliction, enfueled by encounters with eternity and illuminated with electric gratitude.’ I too feel illuminated after reading this astonishing, often harrowing, but ultimately exhilarating essay.”

Josh Cavanaugh

“Cristina Nehring is one of America’s finest writers, and I was anxious to find out how she handled this new “Kindle Single” genre. The essay is truly magnificent, heart-warming, gripping. Anyone interested in motherhood, parenting, love, adventure, romance, will find it compelling. Read it (of course) if you have a child with down syndrome, but also read it if you have children of any sort or type, and also read it if you have no children at all but you just adore superbly-styled prose that makes you ponder the richness of life. And yes, read it too if you want to find out what a Kindle Single can be in the hands of a great writer. Oh, and don’t forget to look at the photos at the end. They provide a perfect topping to this delicious piece.”

Mark J. Warschauer

“It is doubtful whether Christina Nehring’s honest and intimate biography will leave a reader dry eyed. As in many cases, when faced with unsurmountable obstacles, human courage and capabilities surpass expectations. Being a kindle single, it is a quick read but, nevertheless, a deeply moving book. A definite recommendation for readers with empathy and understanding for the trials and tribulations of parents fighting for their child’s life.”

Jeanetta

“Cristina Nehring, whose “vindication” of consuming romantic love made a controversial stir last year, has begun to narrate an altogether different kind of love story. At the precise moment she learned that her book had been vaulted into the rarefied heights of serious public attention, she was also informed that her newborn daughter Eurydice had Downs syndrome– and a related form of leukemia that would require extensive, long-term residential treatment. Nehring candidly admits she never intended to have children and that when she learned she was pregnant in consequence of a world-eclipsing love affair, every concerned friend and advocate she knew advised strongly against bringing the child to term. Something deeper in Nehring knew otherwise, and she is now in the second year of service of a love she finds more more sustaining than even that of the heroic lovers she celebrated in her first book.

The care and tending of Eurydice through the course of extended months of hospital care, invasive needles into her daughter’s delicate vessels, the daily administering of necessary but nauseatingly toxic chemotherapy medicines– could be the stuff of unreadable bathos. But in Nehring’s case, it is miraculously otherwise.She is in love with this child, a love clearly requited. There is no martyrdom here, just dedication and an admirable openness to the next surprising thing. At this brief narrative’s conclusion, there is hope and light on the horizon. Nehring has in mind a book-length treatment to come. Like this published preview, it will, I believe, be transporting. The details, the particulars can be heart- breaking. But the force of Nehring’s love and the quality of attention paid to the winsome Eurydice is like nothing I have read before. Nehring may well be charting new emotional territory here, and it is most becoming.”

Charles Stringham

“Love to read how people over come hardships in their life. This story made you want to get in touch with the author and tell her how much you admired her strength.” Crafty Mom

“For writing about a baby in chemotherapy, Nehring comes up with a piece that is gripping (can something you read on a mobile device be a “page-turner”?) and real and honest and not sappy or morbid. It’s about being a single mom and a new mom and an unexpected mom and the mom of a sick baby, and also about illness itself. It’s about fashion (“resistance through color”) and struggle and faith and the clash between personal and professional. Nehring, the author of A Vindication of Love, also dares to compare parental love with romantic love, and tackles ideas about illness as a metaphor for war, while telling the story of her daughter’s struggle.

I appreciated that Nehring told the story of how Eurydice came to be born without scorn for her daughter’s father or his disinterest in his daughter; his actions speak for themselves. This is a story of parenthood, but Nehring also touches on her struggle to have a foothold in the professional world while her daughter was so very ill, and also writes optimistically about her views on love: “I believe that romantic love can be a form of heroism and of feminism.” She takes us inside the hospital’s walls and shows how she and her daughter, a team of two, held steady and weathered what was a precarious battle with spirit. She doesn’t devolve into self-despair, even when writing about what could be the worst case scenario, and her essay is stronger for the moments of tenderness and fear that do occasionally pop up as well as what I sensed was her belief and faith that her daughter would emerge victorious.

Kudos to Nehring and Amazon for utilizing the technology to add a welcome set of photos at the end that illuminate the text and show Nehring’s daughter Eurydice around the world on the travels she writes about in the essay. While the piece stands alone, these are a great addition.”

Rachel Kramer Bussell

“Complete honesty is a rare thing to find in a Mom. Especially when she’s telling her story to the world. As a Mom with a young child who has special needs, I know that I never would have had the courage to give the kind of details that this author did when she was describing the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy. I also have had the very tough job of being a single working mother, so when the author describes the companionship that her child was able to provide, I concur. The story is a tough one. The author recounts her experiences with wit and sorrow that will have you reaching for the tissues.”

S.J. Wright

“Single mother with a precious Down Syndrome baby who struggles along very happy with her beautiful daughter and life in general – until the little girl develops an aggressive form of Leukemia. Great reading – you won’t regret it.”

Patricia

Amazon.com Review

“Cristina Nehring, essayist and author of A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century, here writes of another kind of love. Journey to the Edge of the Light explores the bond between parent and child and serves as a tribute to her daughter, Eurydice, who was born with Down Syndrome and later diagnosed with leukemia. As mother and daughter spend month after month in the hospital battling the disease, Nehring vividly recounts each event, each thought, each reaction. Her transformation–from literature-loving, jet-setting single woman to doting single mother who hesitates ever to leave her baby’s side–is perhaps best captured in this poignant promise: “Wherever it is we’re going now, you shall light the way, my sweet–and I shall walk for two.”

Shirley Hong