One Hundred Names For Love

Inga Dellea-MessnerAfter I reviewed My Stroke of Insight a few months ago, a colleague suggested that I read Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love.

The book is a biography, written by his wife, about accomplished author Paul West, who suffered a severe stroke in the linguistic left hemisphere. Diane is a famous author as well, so much of their love was adorned with linguistic puns and “word-cuddling.”

One Hundred Names for Love

“One Hundred Names for Love” by Diane Ackerman is available from the library in hardcover, large print, and audiobook on CD and MP3 CD.

Aphasia is one of the worst things that could have happened, not only to Paul but to his decades-old marriage. The book illustrates (perhaps in excess) their struggle to preserve the relationship, love’s durability, and the many unorthodox recovery methods Diane tried.

I admit that I found the first half of this book tedious. Ackerman somehow fills over 150 pages with one basic message: “I’m miserable, he’s miserable. I pity him, I pity myself.” However, I will say she does this masterfully. Her vocabulary is robust and inspiring; but it is overwhelming.

Outsmarting the speech therapists
That being said, I was enthralled by Part Two. The language guru in me went wild! Here, Diane finds that while Paul cannot access words like ”chair” or “checkbook” from his once-staggering lexicon, he is outsmarting his own speech therapists. Even though his simple childhood language is hopelessly mangled, much of his complex adult vocabulary is still there.

A therapist shows him a picture of two cherubs, looking for the word “angels,” and Paul says, ”cherubim.” A few days later, he uses a geometry term, “tesseract,”  to describe a telephone. But his therapists, unfamiliar with these linguistic gems, dismiss them as nonsense.

Once she realizes this, Diane completely revamps his therapy, and language once again becomes an outlet for Paul’s innate brilliance and creativity. Language we never even imagined is easier for him than simple associations like drawing a line from the word “fruit” to an apple, so how could he not need an individualized plan?

The resilience and the resourceful, out-of-the-box thinking employed by these people reinforced much of what I learned in basic linguistics, but in ways I’d never imagined. I found it to be, overall, a brilliant, evocative feast for the heart and mind. I sincerely hope you will give it a go.

A word about Paul
Sadly, as I was reading this book and preparing to write this review, our library’s network administrator, Paul Lacroix, was struck by his second, and eventually fatal, stroke. While reading, I paused for a moment of silence his wife had requested that everyone take one day during his ordeal. It was difficult but enlightening to be reading about the very struggle my own colleague had endured in his poststroke years, and I consider myself blessed for the regrettably few encounters I had with him. This book has helped me sympathize more deeply for his wife and family. He is and always will be cherished by all who knew him.

About Inga Dellea-Messner

Library Assistant Inga Dellea-Messner grew up in Windham and Hudson. She worked at the Rodgers Memorial Library for seven years before becoming a library assistant at the Nashua Public Library. On her way to earning her bachelor’s degree from Keene State, she spent five months studying French in Bretagne (Brittany).

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