cover image The Tiger and the Cage: A Memoir of a Body in Crisis

The Tiger and the Cage: A Memoir of a Body in Crisis

Emma Bolden. Soft Skull, $16.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-593-76723-5

In this dark and riveting work, poet Bolden (Malificae) documents the intersections of body, medicine, spirit, and society through the lens of her own afflictions. The author was diagnosed with dysautonomia at age 12, endometriosis shortly after, and a list of related and possibly unrelated conditions that worsened until her eventual hysterectomy at 33. As she recounts her medical odyssey alongside her race against the fertility clock, she reveals the failures of both language and medicine to address the complexity of chronic pain (“[Medical professionals] believed me inexactly—that I felt dizzy, that I saw stars... but they didn’t believe me exactly”), while juxtaposing her experience with the history of 19th-century “hysterics” at France’s Salpêtrière Hospital, who were taught to perform their alleged madness for their doctors’ research. Like her predecessors, Bolden is a frequent victim of gaslighting by doctors who regard her issues with indifference—one gynecological surgeon, after accidentally puncturing her bowel during operation, exclaims “the pain is in Emily’s head” before realizing she “also ha[d] a sizeable fibroid.” Of her mother’s silent reaction, Bolden writes, “It has its weight. Every single time.” Her lyrical language carries that weight, transmuting rage into catharsis when she liberates herself from an existence dictated by “producing a biological offspring.” This stings as much as it astounds. (Oct.)