"A decade ago...I fell ill.'Fall' is the appropriate word; it is almost as alarming and quite as precipitous as falling in love."
So begins Inga Clendinnen's beautifully written, revelatory memoir exploring the working of human memory and the construction of the self. In her early fifties, Clendinnen, Australia's award-winning historian of Mayan and Aztec history, was struck with an incurable liver disease, immobilized and forced to give up formal research and teaching. From her sickness comes a striking realization of literacy's protean possibilities: that writing can be a vital refuge from the debilitation of the body, and that the imagination can blossom as the body is enfeebled.
Exiled from both society and the solace of history, and awaiting the mysterious interventions of medical science, Clendinnen begins to write: about her childhood in Australia, her parents, her neighbors, her own history. In addition to recovering half-forgotten stories -- about the town baker and his charming horse, Herbie, about the three elderly, reclusive sisters who let her into their clandestine world -- Clendinnen invents new ones to escape the confines of the hospital, with subjects ranging from the jealousies between sisters to a romantic, Kafkaesque encounter on a train. She also traces the physical, mental and moral impacts of her disease, and voices the terrifying drama of bizarre, vivid drug- and illness-induced hallucinations -- even one she had during her liver transplant.
Along the way, Clendinnen begins to doubt her own memories, remembering things that she knows cannot have happened and realizing that true stories often produce a false picture of the whole. With her gifts forlanguage and observation, Clendinnen deftly explores and maps the obscure terrain that divides history from fiction and truth from memory, as she tries to uncover the relationship between her former selves and the woman she is now. An exquisite hybrid of humorous childhood recollections, masterful fictions and probing history, "Tiger's Eye" is a uniquely powerful book about how illness can challenge the self -- and how writing can help one define and realize it.