Holding Silvan: A Brief Life
(Hawthorne Books and Literary Arts, 2013)

Monica Wesolowska ’89 

By Lena M. Lencek [Russian 1977–]

Holding Silvan grabs you by the heart and won’t let go. It’s not just the subject matter: the author’s brutally introspective log of her passage into a motherhood that pitches her into a vortex of moral decisions. It’s also the tact and generosity with which she tells the life story of a cherished infant boy and the struggles of his parents, extended family, and community of friends, nurses, and physicians, to come to terms with the unthinkable. At issue is the question: how to decide for one who is constitutionally incapable of deciding whether to let him live or die?

This memoir (which includes an introduction by Erica Jong ) retains the urgency of the diary on which she draws for her account, but—and here is its brilliance—takes its argument from the Book of Job, its structure from ancient Christian martyrology, and its philosophical problem from Dostoevsky. The birth of a child doomed to die becomes a test of faith, of character, and of the limits of love. Monica’s luminous, laconic prose, with its relentless staccato of short sentences, creates a surface tension of restraint over a turbulence of emotions—terror, anger, despair, grief, tenderness, and joy—that explode in sporadic notations of the author’s anguish and hope. With impeccable aesthetic judgment, the author charts the stages of a wrenching ethical journey that ends in a resounding affirmation of the ultimate fairness of life.

—Author info: Lena was Monica’s adviser for her senior thesis, And Then She Said Stories.