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What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir

Review

What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir

For the longest time, Alice Eve Cohen attempted to conceive but
was told she was infertile. She and her first husband ended up
adopting a baby girl, and although that marriage ended in divorce,
Cohen found happiness again in her life with a new partner and her
daughter, Julia. And by the time Julia is entering the latter years
of elementary school, Cohen is engaged to be married and finding
success with her theater work and return to school. All is going
well in her life, but things take a turn for the worse when she
falls ill, and none of the medical experts are able to agree on
what is wrong with her. Is it a tumor? Early menopause? A bladder
disorder? It isn’t until Cohen is given hormones and a CAT
scan that the problem is discovered --- the 44-year-old Cohen is
six months pregnant.

This improbable scenario is the focus of Alice Eve Cohen's
memoir, WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW. With neither prenatal care nor the
desire to be a mother again, Cohen finds herself preparing for a
baby who may be disabled in any number of ways. Cohen decides first
to either abort the baby (a difficult proposition so far along in
the pregnancy) or to give it up for adoption. But her soon-to-be
husband, Michael, and daughter Julia want to raise the baby no
matter what. In meetings with various doctors and specialists (some
of whom refuse to treat Cohen because of her high-risk pregnancy
and lack of quality insurance), the Cohens are given different
diagnoses for their unborn child. Though the last three months of
the pregnancy are emotionally horrific and often hard to read
about, Cohen’s honesty and thoughtfulness are compelling and
help the reader to soldier through the terrible circumstances of
the pregnancy.

Ironically, while this story weighs heavily on the
reader’s emotions, the book’s narrative is rather
light. Cohen’s narrative hand produces a sly wit that helps
move the story forward and packs the book with a punch: it is taut,
tense, sometimes frantic, often very scary, and quite
heartbreaking. Cohen's courage in writing this tale is astonishing,
and the distance of about seven years from the event helps to give
her the necessary perspective to properly reflect back on what
happened. Trained as a storyteller and actress, Cohen's voice is
distinctive and works well on the written page; her struggle with
the pregnancy and post-partum depression is vivid and captivating.
Readers may find themselves with mouths agape at the emotional and
physical twists and turns presented.

WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW is smart and terrifying; Cohen's odyssey
is not one to envy, and she doesn't always manage the crisis with
dignity or poise. Still, the story is real and achingly human, and
readers can't help but keep their fingers crossed for Cohen, her
family and the surprise baby as she moves the book toward the
conclusion. Overall, this is a fascinating exploration of medical
mistakes and triumphs, the beauty and challenges of parenthood,
identity and family, and the fear of death and the will to
live.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 24, 2011

What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir
by Alice Eve Cohen

  • Publication Date: May 25, 2010
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143117653
  • ISBN-13: 9780143117650