I am not talking about surviving. I am not talking about becoming human, but about how I came to realize that I had always already been human. I am writing about all that I wanted to have, and how I got it. I am writing about what it cost, and how I was able to afford it.Jan Grue
Jan Grue has written several books prior to this memoir though it always explores the theme of embodiment. I Live a Life Like Yours might just give the context behind why this is the focus of his work. Having been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of three, this is a memoir that focuses on this diagnosis and what it means as far as everyday living goes for Jan. A tale about love as much as it is about grief, suffering and a world that is full of obstacles for those not considered “normal.”
Jan Grue was born in 1981 in Oslo. The author of a wide-ranging body of work in fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and academic literature, he is also Professor of Qualitative Research at the University of Oslo. I Live a Life Like Yours was published in Norway in 2018 and has been hailed as a major milestone in Norwegian non-fiction. It is the first Norwegian non-fiction book to be nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 50 years.
And now, thanks to Becky Crook’s translation, we are able to enjoy it over in the UK also. With no chronological order to the book, Jan shifts between specific periods of his life; from his youth with his parents and sister in Norway; his years of study in Berkeley, St. Petersburg, and Amsterdam; and his current life as a professor, husband, and father, and what all of these have entailed. He intersperses these histories with poignant and astute reflections on the world, social structures, disability, loss, relationships, and the body: in short, on what it means to be human. Simultaneously, Grue investigates the story of others, incorporating reflections on philosophy, film, art, and the work of writers from Joan Didion to Michael Foucault. He revives the cold, clinical language of his childhood, drawing from a stack of medical records that first forced the boy who thought of himself as “just Jan” to perceive that his body, and therefore his self, was defined by its defects. Curious about the world that enveloped him with an abundance of obstacles to derail on a daily basis, this is a considered and enrichening biography.
I Live a Life Like Yours is a tale exploring loss, sorrow, and humour and joy where very much needed: Ida pushing Grue through the airport and forgetting him next to the baggage claim; schoolmates forming a chain behind his wheelchair on the ice one winter day; his parents writing desperate letters in search of proper treatment for their son; his own young son climbing into his lap as he sits in his wheelchair, only to leap down and run away too quickly to catch. This book is a heartfelt and insightful story about accepting one’s own body and limitations, and learning to love life as it is while remaining open to hope and discovery. Grue handles this balance impeccably and has you too stretching within yourself for how we could all change our attitudes and formulate more hopeful ways of interpreting and navigating the world. Stunning writing with life-affirming reflections.
I Live a Life Like Yours is out on 4 November, published by Pushkin Press