Christopher Hitchens passed away in December 2011, having been stricken with severe chest pains a year and a half earlier, the first signs of esophageal cancer. Up until a day before he died, Hitchens wrote the words that would compose his last book Mortality, a clear-eyed and poignant exploration of his final days; a book with the ability to move readers to laughter and tears, often on the same page. Mortality was a September selection for Best Books of the Month, and in his review Neal Thompson called it "Funny, smart, irreverent, and surprisingly moving," declaring that "this lucid,
unflinching end-of-life journey through 'Tumorville' is brave and
Amazon was able to talk to Hitchens' widow Carol Blue, who was as thoughtful and candid in her answers as her husband is in the pages of Mortality.
Amazon: Mortality shows us a different side of Christopher
Hitchens. How was he different in private from the public persona that so
many of us saw?
was a gentle side of Christopher that wasn't necessarily on display in his
public appearances. If you were to watch every YouTube video of
Christopher speaking and debating, it wouldn't convey what he was like in
he got sick all of his greatest traits were amplified; he was tender, funny,
sweet, generous, and always extraordinarily resolute.
Amazon: Your husband fell ill just
as he began his book tour for his memoir Hitch-22. How did life change
for you and him after his diagnosis with esophageal cancer?
as he says in Mortality, "I had real plans for my next decade." And he
was only 61 so he should have had at least another quarter-century. There were many subjects he wanted to tackle,
many places he wanted to visit, and many more books he planned to write, such
as one on the Ten Commandments and another on Proust.
was constantly jetting off to exotic spots, lecturing at universities,
reporting from war zones. Then, suddenly, he was earthbound. That was a
huge adjustment. That he could no longer travel was one his great sadnesses,
but he continued to travel in his head. In the opening days of the Arab Spring,
he desperately wanted to jump on a plane and be there: still, he wrote presciently about the
upwelling of democratic yearnings in Tahrir Square from Washington, DC. He
continued to write his columns, his dispatches, his essays about everything:
Mormons, Dickens, Chesterton, Orwell.
fallen ill, he filed from home and became a correspondent reporting from the
foreign land of his own illness.
Amazon: Why did your husband choose to chronicle his illness so publicly?
didn't choose to "“ he ultimately agreed to. As I write in
the Afterword to Mortality, when he signed up with Vanity Fair, he promised his editor Graydon Carter that
he would write about any subject he was assigned to him except
sports. Still, he was reluctant to make himself his own subject. He wanted
to maintain a private sphere, and there were so many other subjects he would
have rather explored, but ultimately he found a way to get interested in the "story
"of his illness. Christopher filed
dispatches from outposts where few had ever gone, like North Korea, but now he was
writing from the front-lines of Maladyland. While being stricken with cancer is a common
experience, his journey to this particular outpost and his explication of it
seems to me unique because he was able to bring to bear on it his
Amazon: What did he hope to
convey to readers from this book?
found much of contemporary literature on the subject woefully lacking, overly
sentimental and not tremendously helpful, in some cases even explicitly
unhelpful and misleading. Of course there were exceptions. I was pleased that in his review for NPR's website,
Heller McAlpin said Mortality ""¦earns a proud spot on the end-of-life shelf, along with Julian Barnes' Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Joan
Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, Leo
Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Joan
Wickersham's The Suicide Index, Saul Bellow's Ravelstein, and Philip Roth's Everyman and Exit Ghost, to name just a few."
wrote about his experience with the same intellectual curiosity and rigor that
motivated all of his work. As he said in his preface, written after he knew he
was ill, to the paperback edition of his memoir Hitch-22: "I wasn't born to do any of the things I set
down here, but I was born to die."
Amazon: There is a stark realism about
his illness throughout Mortality, but his writing is imbued with an
intermittent sense of optimism. Did you
and he feel he might beat it?
knew the odds weren't great, but yes, Christopher was hoping to be among the
small number who could be cured. As he says in Mortality: "What do
I hope for? If not a cure, then a
remission. And what do I want back? In
the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the
freedom of speech."
I wish that he could have written a
different book with a different ending, and I wish that he was the one
answering these questions for you. And though it wouldn't have been titled Immortality,
Christopher would at least have been on the scene to explain his odyssey
(Photos: #1 - Hitchens and Blue during the Romanian Revolution in 1989, #2 - Hitchens in the Middle East in the early 1990s. #3 - Photo Credit: Brooks