Anna, the "I" of this journal, suffered the pain of emotional abuse in her childhood. As an adult, she works in a hospice and cares for patients consumed by physical pain. She begins to "hunger for storylessness," wishing to find a way to separate pain from the experience of pain; yet without a narrative frame she cannot recognize pain in its original and pure state--the pain that occurs before language or thought. And so she enters into a meditation practice in order to see pain "uncompounded."

The book is divided into three sections, each reflecting a part of Anna's meditation practice and each containing sections of dreams, meditation notes, and musings on three friends who have died. As her meditations deepen, Anna begins to see pain in more detail, and in so doing begins to understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain, she concludes, is inevitable. But suffering can be dismantled, carefully, like a house might be. The goal is to keep the house "whole enough" so it doesn't collapse and crush the individual living within.


Currently the concept of "story" is both important and popular: stories are a way for us to frame experience and to empathize with the experiences of others. Confronting this non-narrative seems initially disconcerting, and yet this book is both absorbing and exhilarating. Reading Anna's dream fragments, physical sensations, and random memories, one loses touch with the idea of time, space, and cause and effect--reading becomes like meditating.

I found myself intrigued by the conflict between story (what we invent to explain or contain experience) and the experience itself. Other times I found myself rereading pages, unable to hold on to the ideas that seemed so clear and yet, not bound in narrative, were ephemeral. Often I found myself lulled by the beauty of the writing until the individual words no longer made "sense" but were perfectly understood. I also discovered that this book must be read twice at least, and perhaps three times--a meditation in itself.

Once read (or experienced) this book might stimulate intense discussion of the nature of pain, the truth or deception of individual experience, and the function of narrative and our dependence upon it. This book is also interesting from the point of view of craft. Without a clear story-line, the author creates a book that is both beautiful and compelling.


Duke Univ. Press

Place Published

Durham, N.C. & London



Page Count