cover image The Inward Empire: Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

The Inward Empire: Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

Christian Donlan. Little, Brown, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-50936-7

In this earnest memoir, journalist and first-time author Donlan chronicles his efforts to “navigate the world” as his life changes in his 30s after two almost simultaneous events: the birth of his daughter and his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. He combines careful and unsparing accounts of the “Inward Empire” of experiencing MS—“a place that I am transported to when the truly weird stuff starts to happen”—with short descriptions of MS, how it was first discovered in the 1860s as a “disease of cities and factories,” and how it is currently treated. As he recounts trying to reconcile the “opposing sensations” that his MS onset has on his mental and emotional condition—“the fog of complete bewilderment, the toxic Zen of total comprehension”—he also carefully notes his daughter’s development over the first few years of her life, as a “different person was emerging, outlined by her new abilities.” But Donlan never forces the parallels between his life and his daughter’s; the way his family, friends, and doctors deal with his neurological decline leads him to a greater understanding of his role as a person and a father: “to face death and acknowledge its power, and to acknowledge the equal power of life.” This is a moving, gracefully written story. (June)