In Sri Lanka, a tsunami sweeps a child out to sea, her grandfather helpless against the onrushing water. In France, a young woman succumbs to illness, leaving her husband and small children bereft. Present at both events, Emmanuel Carrère sets out to tell the story of two families―shattered and ultimately restored.
No matter how often you've heard the cliche about how redemptive telling one's story can be, Lives Other Than My Own will make you feel, as if for the first time, how costly it can be to learn this wisdom firsthand ... Carrere is such a beguiling writer that he lulls you into forgetting what lies in wait for Juliette. In simple declarative sentences he reconstructs her life — her judicial aims, the arrival of her new baby, her husband's sudden flourishing as a caretaker for their kid — with unfussy immediacy. Then the cancer comes back with a vengeance, and Carrere tells the story of its devastation and Juliette's death with a faithfulness that is ferocious in its power.
The point of his meandering book, and of his bald assessment of his own callousness, is that he believes he is a better human being now, changed by finally acquiring - in middle age and thanks to Hélène - the ability to love and be loved. Perhaps, but Carrère as narrator can be hard to like ... And while he appears to think, as the title of his book suggests, that he has developed the capacity to care about lives other than his own, he remains very much a man’s man. He is most comfortable telling the stories of the males in both Juliettes’ lives
...a thoughtful, occasionally confounding, hybrid of a book. Part memoir, reportage, biography and philosophical treatise, it shuns the easy answers of a heroic account, instead laying bare the mundane and searing details of tragedy ... Carrère’s account is strongest in his descriptions of Juliette’s family. The loss of a child is shocking under any circumstances, but there is something about the unadorned nature of Carrère’s prose that is singularly profound, as is his frank assessment of his own circumstances ... Carrèe believes that some people have been so 'damaged at their core almost from the beginning' that they cannot live. As a reader, it is difficult not to interpret this as a form of victim-blaming.