This book is an attempt to unpack the various notions of resilience that we carry as a culture. Drawing on contemporary psychology, neurology, etymology, literature, art, and self-help, Emily Rapp Black shows how we need a more complex understanding of this concept when applied to stories of loss and healing and overcoming the odds, knowing that we may be asked to rebuild and reimagine our lives at any moment, and often when we least expect it.
This expansive memoir travels back and forth through time, dwelling in deeply personal detail on Rapp Black’s efforts to forge a new life while still honoring and learning from the old ... In Sanctuary, [Black] writes about [her son's] death with elegant poise and a tenderness that is equal parts raw and generous ... she writes with fierce honesty and zero sentimentality, in a way that distinguishes her from many others who write about grief and trauma ... Rapp Black’s exquisite prose is as compelling as her intellectual rigor ... In the end, Sanctuary is not a memoir of grief or of survival, but rather simply a story about living. Rapp Black is astute and sensitive, and she invites readers to bear witness to the intimate, intense, and profound experiences of losing and gaining so much.
Sanctuary is, over all, a brutal book to read. Black’s power as a writer means she can take us with her to places that normally our minds would refuse to go. But the narrative also takes us to places we perhaps don’t belong: for example, deep down in the weeds of her meaner-than-ever ex-marriage ... We come away feeling like guests at a nightmare dinner party, left to pick up broken glass after one of the hosts has made a scene . We also, as readers, would have been better off not having to trail Black through her long meditations on topics like time, memory, dark matter, Holocaust youth diaries and 'the elegant imbalance of butterflies,' digressions that would have made — that do make, taken individually — marvelous single sentences ... At the very start of Sanctuary, Black describes helping people 'order the chaos of their lives through storytelling.' That goal lies at the heart of her — of any writer’s — life’s work. With just a little more editing, this otherwise often beautiful jewel of a book would have gotten there.
On these pages, [Black] refuses to usher the reader through the tidy, well-bordered stages of grief. Instead, she is rebuilding a life in ways that are messy, erratic, and devastating while finding moments of joy, strength, and resilience, a word she’s wrestled with ... When the prose rises in the early sections, it really soars. However, the prose often felt flat, shadowed by the poetic epigraphs at the start of each chapter ... The glimpses of brilliance — lines that readers will most certainly highlight and carry with them — start coming, in these later chapters, with ferocity. When Black stops moving in scenes and starts to write from her intellect, the work becomes brutally compelling ... Faced with the impenetrable nature of grief, Black has found a way in, one she excavates and fills with light.