I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir

University of Oslo professor Jan Grue (Disability and Discourse Analysis) was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at age three and relies on an electric wheelchair. In his powerful, matter-of-fact memoir, I Live a Life Like Yours, he explores the struggles and stigma of disability.

Soon after his son's birth, Grue found himself paging through his childhood medical records, marveling at the trials his parents faced. Despite leg braces and customized shoes, he was never going to be a "normal" boy, though he attended mainstream schools. Earning a driver's license for a car with hand controls, he achieved independence. However, studying abroad was challenging in old-fashioned, canal-strewn St. Petersburg and Amsterdam, and even in Berkeley, Calif., where he was a Fulbright fellow, he wasn't guaranteed accessible housing.

"This is how one becomes a problem: by pointing out a problem," Grue remarks. Much as he prefers to blend in quietly, at times he's forced to take up the role of a disability activist. Navigating airports, in particular, poses difficulties that require him to speak out. It takes two pages to describe the precise sequence of movements involved just in standing up from the sofa. By detailing such practicalities, the book elicits compassionate understanding.

Grue alternates between his own story and others' (especially poet/journalist Mark O'Brien, who lived in an iron lung), doctors' reports and theorists' quotations, mingling the academic and the intimate. The fragments build to a deep meditation on the nature of memory and the body versus the self. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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