The light of the world-Book by Elizabeth Alexander

The light of the world

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This book is a memoir by Elizabeth Alexander written after she lost her husband, Ficre, four days after his 50th birthday. Ficre is an artist and chef. I found the book cover (one of his paintings) gorgeous and had to google him to find more of his colorful work.

I picked up the book after the stellar reviews from bloggers I follow online. It was also one of Michelle Obama’s recommended readings for 2021.

The book is a poetic love story of Elizabeth and Ficre. It talks about the rich African culture and food with the recipes that Ficre prepared for their family dinners.  Reading this book felt like listening to your best friend talk about her loss, and her memories, and stories.

I have not yet learned to use our television DVR. One of the points of marriage is that you split labor. In the olden days that meant one hunted and one gathered; now it means one knows where the tea-towels are kept and the other knows how to program the DVR, for why should we both have to know?

I felt Elizabeth wrote this book for herself, as a pass-me-down for the kids when they are older. The things she would tell her kids about their dad and their life together, the moments that she didn’t want to forget. Through these writings, Elizabeth gets to revisit those moments and re-live Ficre.

To me, the book read like a group of disjointed essays, like a bunch of memories and recollections of Elizabeth about her husband. Like I was reading someone’s journal entries, at times almost like a stream of consciousness. It seemed to lack a unified narration.

I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn’t get into it. The writing is definitely beautiful and the relationship explored is lovely, too. The book is filled with poetic and soul-touching content. My heart goes out to her loss, and she certainly conveyed how much she loved Ficre. Still, I just couldn’t find a way to connect with the book.

The one part that resonated with me in the entire book was when she talks about the friendship she had with her husband.

..The friendship part of the marriage,that is the part for which you need the person present, and that is what I miss. Friendship in marriage is its own thing-friendship in a cup of tea…

I couldn’t agree more. After decades of being together sometimes, marriage is all about friendship – friendship in the Sunday walks, friendship in picking up prescriptions, friendship in calling him when you have good news to share, or bad news to cry with.

Halfway into the book, I felt weary of the idealized life she painted- this perfect world of friends, family, food, art, etc. I repeatedly left it and returned to it days later.

In all marriages there is a struggle and ours was no different in that regard. But we always came to the other shore, dusted off, and said, There you are, my love.

Maybe I wasn’t in the frame of mind for the depth and richness of language. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t distracted by our upcoming summer plans. Maybe this reading experience was all about me. Maybe this book wasn’t for me or maybe it was the timing. 

Nevertheless, I found reading it a tedious process and had a hard time finishing the book. It definitely was not a page-turner for me. And so I pushed through to the end in spite of a strong desire to put it aside. 

But there’s no question that Ficre was a wonderful man and the light of her world.