Playwright and activist Eve Ensler’s new book is a brilliant, ferocious memoir about the experience of going through cancer, but that’s just for starters. There are radical and refreshing ideas here, as the author connects her illness to our collective dissociation from the ailing body of the earth, as well as to the suffering of women around the world in countries where rape and sexual violence have become part of military combat. Any brief synopsis is going to make this book sound dire and doomy, but the experience of reading it is exhilarating. It’s unputdownable, and shot through with an almost shamanic energy.
Ensler writes about how she grew up completely dissociated from her body, as a result of sexual abuse by her father. When her play The Vagina Monologues became successful, she travelled around the world meeting women who naturally felt compelled to share their stories with her. Often they were sagas of sexual violence. But the stories that shattered her were the ones she heard in the Congo, where eight million people have been killed and many thousands of women raped in an economic war over minerals like tin, gold and copper. Oddly enough, however, the Congo was also where Ensler encountered optimism and hope. “Inside this world of atrocities and horror was a red-hot energy on the verge of being born,” she writes. “The women had hunger and dreams, demands and a vision.” Ensler joined forces with a group of Congolese women and they were about to open a new UNICEF-supported sanctuary for women when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer (stage three). She describes her seven months of treatment in a series of verbal CAT scans that capture images, memories, visceral epiphanies and ideas all at once. The result is a genuinely brave and passionate book that makes us rethink our connection to our bodies, each other and to the world.