Kay Redfield Jamison offers readers a marvelous evocation of love and death in Nothing Was The Same (Knopf, $25). The book is “about love and what love had brought, about death and what death had taken.” Kay’s husband Richard was her colleague and friend as well as her spouse. It was Richard who helped Kay manage her manic-depressive illness and encouraged her to write about it. He died of a complication from the Hodgkin’s disease he had had many years before. Jamison describes the happiness of their twenty years together, his death, and then her mourning. In one of the most interesting sections she analyzes the difference between grief and depression as only she can.
The exemplar of the nonfiction narrative, Tracy Kidder’s Strength In What Remains (Random House, $26) tells a moving story about a young man named Deogratius who escapes from death in Burundi and arrives on our shores penniless, friendless, and with no English. Through his intelligence, diligence, and sweetness, he does find friends who help him. He goes from sleeping in Central Park and delivering bags for Gristide’s to attending Columbia School of General Studies and Dartmouth Medical School. Before graduating he decided to return to Burundi and establish a health center; it is there that Kidder visits him. Deogratius’s story represents what the United States at its best has to offer the world: a haven, opportunity, and support, and Kidder feels that our country gains as much by this as the individuals assisted.
There are two excellent books about Senator Ted Kennedy and, of course, his own touching memoir, True Compass (Twelve, $35). Any one of these will satisfy those who loved and respected the Senator and those with fond memories of the family. True Compass, composed with the help of Ron Powers, feels as though the Senator is talking to us about his life. He recalls his childhood as the baby brother, Jack’s presidential campaign, his own appointment to the Senate, Robert’s sadly aborted campaign (how would American history be different if Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated?), his own growing reputation, and his personal problems and successes. It is a remarkably honest biography, unexpected from a famous politician.