People react in various ways to the diagnosis of a terminal illness. In this novel, Celeste and Nathalie are two very different half-sisters whose mother develops Motor Neurone Disease.
Their mother is convinced that a miracle will cure her of this progressively incapacitating illness and plans a pilgrimage in the belief that she will be healed through doing so. Celeste, a doctor, is sceptical about the wisdom of allowing anyone as sick as her mother to embark on what, in her opinion, is a fool-hardy and arduous journey with only disappointment at its end. Her medical training and knowledge support her unyielding view that medicine and religion are mutually exclusive and that her mother needs medical help, not a wild goose chase with no scientific basis engendering false hope.
Nathalie, on the other hand, is easy-going, emotionally compassionate and with greater empathy for other people than Celeste. She is open to trying anything that might help their mother and supportive of her wish to embark upon a pilgrimage. Nathalie thinks that they should simply do what their mother feels will help her, instead of what anyone else thinks she should do.
The sisters decide to please their mother and make the visit to the pilgrimage site in Romania a family trip across Europe.
Celeste, with greater financial resources than Nathalie, hires a private driver rather than subject their mother to the discomfort of public transport. But despite the small indulgence in having a local driver and car, it is still an arduous journey. This enforced proximity inevitably tests their relationship with each other, but also fosters a new understanding and respect between them.
Having a stranger with them helps them to see things in a different light, forcing the sisters to examine and face up to issues left unresolved in their own personal lives.
As they approach the final destination, Celeste and Nathalie have to cope with more than just their mother’s increasing debility. Decisions regarding who to put first under these difficult circumstances mean hard choices have to be made. This pilgrimage has become more than their mother’s search for a cure, it has been a vehicle for healing within their own lives.
An extremely worthwhile read.
Jacinta Halloran lives in Melbourne, where she works as a GP. She has written on medical science for The Sunday Age, and her short stories have been published in New Australian Stories 2 and The Pen and the Stethoscope. Her first novel, Dissection, was published in 2008.
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