I am happy to have read Beautiful Affliction, by Lene Fogelberg, in the deepest part of a Michigan winter. Winter suggests to many cold, darkness, hibernation, and lifelessness. Yet I am energized by the clear crispness of the air, the beauty of snow, a fleeting ray of sunshine catching the red of a cardinal perched on a bare branch. I’m drawn inward, to more contemplative pursuits of writing, reading and fiber arts, released from the need to tame the outdoor gardens, swim the open lake, cycle around the countryside. I love the very contrast of the quiescent landscape with an enlivened interior life.
The title of Fogelberg’s new memoir, Beautiful Affliction, captures the juxtaposition in the book between poetic beauty, as she describes her surroundings, her family, and the physical and emotional realities she faces, against the frightful progress of a long undiagnosed, potentially fatal heart ailment, and the ordeal of the surgeries required to save her. The book’s brilliance is in the beautifully written elevation of this young family’s everyday lives captured in the author’s rarefied (read oxygen deprived!) narrative. The constriction of her body's blood supply leaves her with only the energy to do what she must, but perhaps results in her sharing the most exquisite and memorable feelings, sensations and thoughts, which in the normal hurly burly of a healthy life, might have gone unremarked. These are lovely people, dragged through disastrous medical incompetence, who manage to hold dear what they should; each other and the treasure of their daily lives. Fogelberg’s writing is all the more impressive because English is not her native language. The affliction of a terrible heart problem regrettably visited the Fogelbergs. But the beauty is brought to the reader in this engaging memoir. It may be winter, but this is a read for all seasons.