BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, starred review, January 2019
Julie Yip-Williams always sensed that she was living on borrowed time. After she was born blind with cataracts in 1976 in Vietnam, her grandmother ordered her parents to take her to an herbalist to procure poison that would end Yip-Williams’ life. Thankfully, the herbalist refused. Yip-Williams went on to live an extraordinary life until she died of colon cancer at age 42 on March 19, 2018. Her book, The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After, is equally exceptional.
After immigrating to America as a child, Yip-Williams underwent surgery that restored partial sight. She later graduated from Harvard Law School, traveled the world alone, married, had two daughters and worked at a prestigious New York City law firm, only to be diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in 2013. Her exquisite, honest memoir about living with and dying of cancer is equal parts practical and philosophical.
Yip-Williams writes unflinchingly of learning to move forward with the disease. “Life can and does go on after an appalling diagnosis, even an incurable one,” she writes. She never sugarcoats, however. She purposefully aims “to depict the dark side of cancer and debunk the overly sweet, pink-ribbon facade of positivity and fanciful hope and rah-rah-rah nonsense spewed by cancer patients and others, which I have come to absolutely loathe.” She plans her death carefully, just as she planned her life, teaching her children not to be afraid, that death is part of life. In the last chapter she writes, “I have lived even as I am dying, and therein lies a certain beauty and wonder.”
Full of love, humor, insight and tragedy, her book resonates with wisdom. As her husband so aptly notes, “For the little girl born blind, she saw more clearly than any of us.”
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.