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Woman of Few Words - A Review

Author Cheri Tannenbaum
WOMAN OF FEW WORDS – My Creative Journey with Dystonia
By Cheri Tannenbaum
Gefen Publishing House, 2019. 138 pages
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This is a rare book about a rare disease. I say "rare disease" because until I read this book I had never heard of dystonia. And this memoir is a rare book because the author, who suffers from dystonia, breathes and lives Torah. Belief is the fabric of her life, prayer is the thread that weaves her cloak of survival. She jokes about being an "inspiration" but acknowledges that to many people the life she has made for herself, the family she has raised, and her academic successes are inspirational. This was the note which she had printed in Hebrew and English:
"Hi. My name is Cheri Tannenbaum. I have a neurological condition called dystonia, which affects my speech. I hold my nose when I talk because this helps me to talk a little better. (No, I do not need a tissue!) You need to listen to me very carefully to understand me. Please ask me to repeat myself over and over again until you do. I am not deaf or retarded."
This is not a memoir of self-praise, this is a memoir of self-examination. The author does not shy away from frustration, anger, or bewilderment. At many moments she is the veritable Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill only to have it roll down again. Every motion or incident, every ordinary act of living, becomes a complicated feat of "engineered" life. Her affliction affects her speech so what would be ordinary contact becomes an assumption of retardation, deafness, or a language disability.
Her memoir ends with a chapter entitled "What I Have Learned" which in many ways echoes thoughts that many of us have as we move through the different cycles of our lives. "My forty-five years of suffering have developed within me a very high pain threshold, and these muscles are constantly working on overdrive . . . Saying this in my own words gives me a feeling of connection to God. I feel listened to . . ."

Reviewed by Pnina Moed Kass 

 

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Monday, 18 October 2021

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