Book Chat’s rating: ∗∗∗∗∗/5

Have you every seen a tree with its roots out of the ground in the winter, when its branches are also free of it leaves? Surprisingly, a tree’s roots and its branches are a lot a like: they both have a multitude of tiny capillaries reaching to all possible open space, either deep in the earth or high in the sky, trying to search for a tiny bit of opening that allows them to suck some life out of their surrounding. When I read The Heart, that is the image recurring in my head. I thought the story was written like that: It reaches to every ancillary character surrounding the heart that is still beating, like tree branches, like tree roots, like vessel, like our tiny capillaries deliver the blood from our pumping heart.

I described the book as if it is full of metaphors and difficult allegories. It’s not. It’s written like a very meticulously observed report. The story follows the heart of Simon Limbres, after an accident, he was announced brain dead, and the process of organ donation begins. The 256-page book describes a course of events happened in 24 hours. I was expecting the dramas between families and doctors, donors and donees, etc. There was some of that, but not the types of irrational conflicts I anticipated. The characters are rational, unusually rational, but their reactions as Maylis de Kerangal depicted, are very believable.

What struck me the most is the style of writing (or thanks to the translation by Sam Taylor): run on sentences with an abundant of commas. At first it was hard to read, but then it felt very rhythmic, as if de Kerangal wanted the story to flow like heartbeats, from one character to another character. Each character is an individual with different personalities and reactions to the event, but because they way they were portrayed was the same, it feels as if life is shifting through them.

I am also haunted by the situation Marianne and Sean faced: what organ will they be taking? We all know when the dead is dead, the living has to remain living. “Bury the dead, repair the living.” But at the same time, talking about harvesting a human’s organ can be cold-blooded. I recently read When Breath Becomes Air and Speakers of the Dead, both directly or indirectly deal with the transfer of organ and the use of dead body for greater medical cause. Each of them bring out the good and bad of the handling of the human body, but neither resonates in me the thought that although the heart is the center of the body, our eyes are our windows that let us see the world, the objects around us, and the people we love. No matter what the organ donation law say or how badly another person needs it, I hear myself also pleading: Please don’t take the eyes.




Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux on February 9, 2016, (first published January 1st 2014)
Original Title: Réparer les vivants (Repair the living)
UK Title: Mend The Living
Literary Awards: Grand Prix RTL-Lire (2014), Premi Llibreter (2015), Man Booker International Prize Nominee for Longlist (2016)