Skip to main content

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After

Review

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After

Part autobiography, part courageous legacy, this chronicle of life with a fatal disease takes the reader on a fascinating journey with what must be a tragic end, the sorrow softened by the writer's insights.

Julie Yip-Williams was Chinese, born in Vietnam. Only much later in her life did she learn that not long after her birth, her grandmother convinced her parents that she should be euthanized, owing to cataracts in both eyes that predicted a life of misery. But, miraculously some would say, the herbal doctor who was asked to end her life flatly refused. As a young child, Julie escaped Vietnam on a creaky, leaking boat with her family and, again miraculously, wound up in the US. There, with her eyesight partially restored, she would eventually graduate from Harvard Law School, marry a man she loved and become the mother of two little girls.

"Part autobiography, part courageous legacy, this chronicle of life with a fatal disease takes the reader on a fascinating journey with what must be a tragic end, the sorrow softened by the writer's insights."

But in 2013, Julie received a diagnosis of metastatic (probably terminal) cancer. Just what that meant, how it would affect her and her loved ones, and what to do each and every day became the crucial dilemma that consumed her. An intellectual with a strong gift for narrative, Julie honestly reported her feelings, most critically, whether to give in and let go, or stand and, to whatever extent possible, fight. Was it the best example for her little ones to see their mother refuse to accept as inevitable the wisdom of the medical profession? And what about hope? Is it an ally or a trickster?

Julie postulated that her husband would need another partner (she humorously invented the “Second Slutty Wife”) to help take care of her daughters, with whom, she realized, she would never share joys like college graduation or weddings and grandchildren. She went the seemingly inevitable rounds of second opinions, alternative diets and trial drugs until she was finally settled at home in a hospice bed, where her life ended in 2018, the last hours lovingly described by her husband, Joshua.

Because there are many current accounts of a far longer life with cancer than was possible in years past, Julie had room for glimmers of positivity and tried to live the time she was given with dignity. Poignant letters addressed to her husband and daughters give insight. Her personal biography with its unique perils and surprising rewards, the calculations of medical odds versus the intuition of the suffering patient, the low moments and the rage --- all these provide awareness that can be helpful to others walking a similar path.

Julie knew that her writing would be the gift she could give to her children, a knowledge that grew with each passing day: “Each of us has experiences from which we can draw strength and that can serve as the basis of our faith.”

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on February 22, 2019

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After
by Julie Yip-Williams

  • Publication Date: February 5, 2019
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0525511350
  • ISBN-13: 9780525511359