Before My Time: A Memoir of Love and Fate (Paperback)
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WINNER OF THE ROBBIE ROBERTSON DARTMOUTH BOOK AWARD and the EVELYN RICHARDSON NON-FICTION AWARD
Weaving together touching scenes from her family history and her own life, Ami McKay's intimate and captivating memoir captures what it means to live fully even when you know your life may be cut short.
In 1895, Ami McKay's great-great aunt, a dressmaker named Pauline Gross, confided to a medical professor that she expected to die young, like many in her family before her. With her help, that doctor launched a family study that eventually led to the identification of the genetic mutation now known as Lynch syndrome, which predisposes its carriers to several types of cancer. In 2001, Ami was among the first to be tested for the syndrome. And now she's written the captivating story of how she, like her mother before her, learned to carry on with joy, with hope, and with a bold hunger for life in the face of an uncertain future.
Ami writes of her childhood, "I listened to the women in my family tell stories of the past . . . sitting around the kitchen table with my mother, sometimes laughing until they cried, sometimes sobbing through words of grief. They spoke of relatives who lived before I was born--people who came from nothing, who faced great hardship, who died too young. The women in those tales stared down death, looked after the sick, and conversed with fate. They spread the truth through story, even when others didn't wish to hear it. This is how I learned that stories have power--to make sense of the world, to give voice to dreams, to nurture hope and banish fear."
About the Author
AMI McKAY is the author of three internationally bestselling novels--The Birth House, The Virgin Cure and The Witches of New York and the recent yuletide novella, Half Spent Was the Night. She began her writing career as a freelance radio journalist, and in 2001 wrote and produced a radio documentary, called Daughter of Family G, that traced her decision to undergo genetic testing. It won a Silver Medallion at the Atlantic Journalism Awards, was nominated for a Gabriel Award, and aired on both The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio and on National Public Radio in the US. Her non-fiction work has also appeared in Elle Canada, The Independent, Canadian Living and Chatelaine. Born and raised in Indiana, McKay now lives in Nova Scotia.
“McKay breathes new life into the ghosts of her deceased relatives, presenting them in vignettes as characters that readers come to care about. Conflicts abound throughout the memoir, captivating readers’ interest and heightening the tension. . . . McKay should be commended for her honesty and thoroughness in tackling this difficult subject. Her memoir is a thought-provoking eye-opener that is hard to put down.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“A lovingly chronicled family tale about fatal genetic predisposition. . . . In the best of creative non-fiction writing, this genetic memoir weaves together her family history and scenes from her past. . . . Beautifully written.” —Annapolis County Spectator
“Ami McKay, how do you do it? How do you turn a tale of cancer genetics gone mad into a surreal and beautiful story of love and resilience and genealogy and history? Daughter of Family G is more than a memoir—it manages to unfold and examine all of our pasts. How do we define ourselves? What is destiny? Is fate as simple as it sounds, or can it be rewritten? This book became a bible of sorts for me, providing me with the most brilliant tools to imagine my own future. Every single time I turned a page, I felt more invested in the lives of Ami and Ami’s family. Her ability to be vulnerable and open was beautiful. How she faced her personal demons and gave them heart was everything. I was sad when it was over. I wanted to follow Ami to her house and sit at her kitchen table and ask her a hundred questions. This book read so much like a novel. It was suspenseful and heartfelt and scary and wonderful. Who knew cancer could be so interesting.” —Jann Arden
“Ami McKay’s memoir is a deep and relevant meditation on navigating the terrain between the genes we inherit and the life we choose. For McKay, despite a life-threatening mutation, it is life-affirming family love that triumphs.” —Pauline Dakin, author of Run, Hide, Repeat
“Ami McKay’s book mourns all that is lost, but is no tragedy. Instead, she celebrates the ancestors who contributed so much to our understanding that cancer is in part hereditary. More importantly, she teaches us through moving stories and memories how to live and live on beyond the grasp of destiny.” —JJ Lee, author of The Measure of a Man
“This beautifully told, genre-bending story is part mystery and part love story that reads like historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down. It’s the rare book that makes you laugh, cry and learn so much.” —Tina Cassidy, author of Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait
“Infused with hard-won wisdom, this brilliant memoir of a family haunted by cancer is an invitation, in the face of fear, to be “wildly, passionately, outrageously devoted to life.” Bees, crinoline, hospital labs, kindness, grief, despair, and especially love—the large and small signatures are all here, recognizable, heartbreaking, and confirming. Moved to tears, I held this profound and courageous book to my heart, reminded of life’s frail wonder.” —Beth Powning, author of The Sea Captain's Wife