a bookclique pick by Katrina Smith

I am, I am, I am… determined? Adventurous? Courageous? Or at least I intend to be more so after reading Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. The acclaimed Northern Irish author of novels such as This Must Be the Place and After You’d Gone has spun together a series of autobiographical tales unlike any I have read before.

O’Farrell names each chapter after a different human organ and proceeds to recount in gorgeous, dramatic detail the harrowing events of her remarkable life. In the first chapter, “Neck 1990,” O’Farrell recollects her encounter with a murderer on a hike in the remote Irish countryside when she was just 18. We are immediately captured by O’Farrell’s story-telling expertise and left questioning, was she lucky or unlucky?

Incensed by this young girl’s experience with both male violence against women and the subsequent male authorities’ dismissal of her fear, readers begin a book that will draw forth the strongest emotions. O’Farrell dedicates this book to her children and relates both her struggles and triumphs as a mother raising a daughter with a life-threatening immunological disorder.

O’Farrell’s experiences might be unique – severe encephalitis as a child that left her with permanent brain damage, multiple car accidents, strange illnesses contracted while traveling, and her own recklessness as a headstrong child – but are, nevertheless, relatable. She writes about the mix of vulnerability and strength that characterize being a woman, the fragility of the human body, the instinctive protectiveness towards loved ones, the insatiable longing for travel, the frustration of being ignored by those who think they know better, the anxiety of being at a crossroads career-wise – all themes that I, as a 21 year old woman, already understand.

“Coming so close to death as a young child, only to resurface again into life, imbued in me for a long time a brand of recklessness, a cavalier or even crazed attitude to risk… It was not so much that I didn’t value my existence but more that I had an insatiable desire to push myself to embrace all that it could offer.” O’Farrell’s memoir has reminded me to embrace my own life with more determination, excitement, and courage.

Katrina Smith

Katrina Smith

Katrina Smith is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, majoring in English and Philosophy, Politics & Economics, and minoring in Spanish. She worked as a writing coach at UNC’s Writing Center and is the Sergeant-At-Arms for the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies, one of world’s oldest debating and literary societies. Her lifelong love has been 19th century women authors, but she has been found more recently reading modern non-fiction, with an emphasis on social justice.