The author begins with her death-defying childhood. It’s far-flung and exotic. But by the time she finishes – at her own death – the reader is forced to recognize that dying is the most universal circumstance, to the point of banality. Regardless of culture or place or resources, we die. The only difference is that Julie, as a terminal cancer patient, could mark it on a calendar. And now she dares the reader, gently, to live likewise.
Yip-Williams could allow herself to be absorbed, imagining her children’s grief and her husband’s hypothetical second wife, but instead she is pragmatic, preparing what is essentially an A to Z of how to get by without her. The result is an almanac of sorts for her family’s future, a biographical journey punctuated with insight, emotion and the frank honesty and reflection that come with the acceptance of death.
This memoir is so many things — a triumphant tale of a blind immigrant, a remarkable philosophical treatise and a call to arms to pay attention to the limited time we have on this earth. But at its core, it’s an exquisitely moving portrait of the daily stuff of life: family secrets and family ties, marriage and its limitlessness and limitations, wild and unbounded parental love and, ultimately, the graceful recognition of what we can’t — and can — control.