The amazing thing about Khakpour’s book is the way she recognizes that any illness in modern life inevitably enters the mind. I hope Khakpour’s memoir isn’t relegated to the health section of the bookstore or of Amazon, because it’s not really about Lyme, or not most deeply about Lyme—it’s about modern life. And it’s one of the most chilling, if meandering, portraits of it I’ve read ... like reading the diary of someone you always wanted to be like, only to be transfixed by just how bad being that person can be ... Her tale reveals with unsettling clarity that the damage wrought by each of the disappointments is as cumulatively poisoning as any tick bite she might have gotten. And she unmasks the terrifying revelation that any person’s efforts to heal herself, bodily or psychically, have just as good a chance to be wounding as they do to be nourishing ... Khakpour’s prose is beautiful, at once silky and scorching, like the curls of smoke rising from a fire that’s just starting ... She’s profound, even prophetic, in the in-between passages where she’s muddling along, not quite broken but not quite whole, either ... Khakpour has written an unsettling book. But it’s one of lasting merit. It’s something to keep by our desks rather than our bedside tables: not a consolation but a provocation.
Despite its intermittently chatty tone, Sick is a strange book, one that resists the clean narrative lines of many illness memoirs—in which order gives way to chaos, which is then resolved, with lessons learned and pain transcended along the way ... By focussing on place, Khakpour implicitly situates herself in the long line of women who have been, as the writer-director Todd Haynes has put it, speaking of his 1995 film Safe, 'pathologized by their own dis-ease in the world' ... Though she’s worn down by her mistreatment at the hands of some of her doctors, Khakpour seems unsurprised; as a woman of color, born in Iran, she begins from the assumption that many Americans will find her suspect. Her lack of defensiveness is perhaps the book’s most remarkable quality ... Khakpour’s decision to avoid explicit claims to scientific or literary authority is a bold move, one that draws attention to the ways in which women are expected to tell stories of sickness—and the ways in which their storytelling can affect their chances of accurate diagnosis and effective treatment ... Rather than wrestle her subject into more comfortable territory, Khakpour forces her reader to deal with unrelieved uncertainty ... She dramatizes a paradox: solidarity with other sufferers is a source of both comfort and information, and yet it can also lead you to be written off as one more member of the herd of suspected malingerers.
It’s easy to see why Sick has been grouped in several reviews with other 'illness manifestos,' recent books by women who insist on the validity of women’s experiences of and decisions about their own bodies ... But Khakpour is no activist, and Sick is not an illness manifesto. Though Khakpour never abandons her belief that she has chronic Lyme, she doesn’t insist that her readers believe she does. Nor is it necessary to accept the legitimacy of chronic Lyme to embrace Khakpour’s story ... Where Sick differs from most illness memoirs — indeed from most memoirs generally — is that it is not a tale of redemption. Khakpour eschews the arc that takes the memoirist from sick to well or, at least, to enlightened ... As her memoir unfolds, though, Khakpour’s intelligence, humor, and the generosity with which she exposes her vulnerability make us certain that her friends would be eager to help her ... Part of what makes Khakpour so compelling as a narrator is that she rejects the limited menu of identities we usually afford the ill and disabled, in life and in memoirs: brave or pitiful.
Sick, the Iranian-American writer Porochista Khakpour’s gripping, intrepid third book, is not the memoir she originally set out to write ... it’s about being ill, about learning to identify as such and what it means to come to terms with this ... Sick reads with the same giddy narrative propulsion as a thriller. In this case we know whodunnit, but Khakpour is compelled to attempt to unravel the mysteries of where and when ... To throw one’s readers into such an intimate account of suffering is a daring choice, but it works, the reading experience mimicking the fevered desperation Khakpour describes. If it all becomes too much, the reader has the luxury of turning away from the page and taking a break. For Khakpour, however, there’s no such respite.
Porochista Khakpour’s insightful and haunting narrative of her battle with incurable late-stage Lyme disease is more than a memoir of her own illness. In Sick, Khakpour spotlights America’s diseased health care system, and in particular how it infects the most vulnerable ... Sick's compelling truth makes this memoir essential reading as a medical mystery story and also a very telling story about American health care and its treatment of the vulnerable, now and for years to come.
Sick will not reward readers with a happy ending, though there are triumphs, large and small ... in the end, she produces a book that might one day join the shelf of, for lack of a better term, sick lit classics, including The Bell Jar, Illness As Metaphor, and Brain On Fire.
...Khakpour is unflinching, not escapist: nakedly honest upon the page, neither hiding nor justifying her choices ... Khakpour gathers that courage, again and again, as she reaches into the most painful parts of her life, excavates them, and holds them up to the light. Khakpour’s writing also shreds the flat stereotypes of illness. The sick are often shown as angelic in their illness; repentant, like somehow, they deserve it; transcendent, like their pain elevates them to a different plane; near-corpses stripped of contact with reality. Khakpour presents no angels, no penance, no transcendence. She insists on context, as each of her intersecting identities impacts what it means to be ill ... Reading this book plunges readers into the embodied, visceral truth of sickness. The ill body is not a home: it is pain, a trap ... The kaleidoscopic range of Khakpour’s life with illness—how she has grappled with it, and how it has grappled with her—is this memoir’s offering.
Sick is an important memoir for a number of reasons. For one, Khakpour exposes the ways in which women are often treated by health professionals—many women’s symptoms not taken seriously ... In many ways, the memoir progresses like a mystery. Though we know the final diagnosis is Lyme before we even begin, we are there with Khakpour as she tries to put together the pieces, and I found myself wondering when she’d finally have an answer, wishing at every stage that she’d find some reprieve in a diagnosis ... Khakpour covers so much ground in this memoir, discussing everything from her illness, to her relationships, to her addiction, to her perpetual displacement, to the world events that serve as external stressors, and she does so with an amazing sense of clarity that we are able to follow along with ease ... Khakpour shows readers that with chronic illness, there is no tidy conclusion, as this is a lifelong struggle.
Despite its catalog of horrors—car crashes and concussions, black moods and bad boyfriends, the coming apart at the seams—its prose entrances and shimmers like haze rising from the blacktop in triple-digit heat. In the book’s occasional 'interlude,' the tension lifts as Khakpour reflects on her experiences, and I wish she’d made more room for reflection overall. Sick would have been stronger with a more complex texture, but she skimps on emotional complication in favor of hurtling forward ... 'To find a home in my body,' Khakpour considers, 'is to tell a story that doesn’t exist.' But that’s what writers do, and now it does.
By turns harrowing and bewildering, Sick is neither easy nor pleasant reading ... Khakpour...describes herself as a 'bad sick person,' somebody taking perverse pleasure in further damaging her health by continuing to smoke, drink, and indulge in occasional illegal drug use. Perfect patients do not exist. Every sick patient deviates from doctor's orders. Yet Khakpour clearly expects her parents, boyfriends, and the American medical establishment to believe she is ill and help her through the worst parts of said illness. That's a heavy expectation to impose when she won't help herself. And herein lies the crux: in Sick, we have a book whose subject matter could be neither more timely nor more fraught: a highly debated illness, the status of women in the Me-Too era, and the status of minorities and LGBTQ individuals during tumultuous times presented by a writer who is not entirely honest with her readers—and, perhaps, herself. And that is unfortunate.
She speaks frankly of her life and such issues as prescription medicine addiction and depression. Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose, and Khakpour’s frank memoir will give hope to others who are struggling with this devastating illness.
Lucid, eloquent, and unflinchingly honest, Khakpour’s book is not just about a woman’s relationship to illness, but also a remarkably trenchant reflection on personal and human frailty. A courageously intimate memoir about living within a body that has 'never felt at ease.'