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Book review
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
  1. Arthur W Frank
  1. Correspondence to Dr Arthur W Frank, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada T2N 1N4;

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Christian Wiman. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013, hardback, 176 pages. ISBN 978-0374216788, £15.99.

“Death is the sanction for everything that the storyteller can tell,” wrote the philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay, “The Storyteller.” “He has borrowed his authority from death.”1 My Bright Abyss collects Christian Wiman's writing during the years after his diagnosis with what he calls a rare cancer of the blood; as he specifies no diagnostic label, I will not guess. I will guess that Wiman does not want his readers to get caught up in medical specifics. The inestimable value of this book is its lesson in priorities—what in life should be taken most seriously. Wiman expresses gratitude to his physicians, and he leaves the medical details to them. For him, the serious business of being ill is spiritual.

Wiman, born in 1966, is a distinguished American poet who from 2003 to 2013 was editor of Poetry, the oldest American magazine of its type. Like many poets, he writes prose that conveys complex ideas in phrases that go beyond lucid into illuminous. As a reader, I felt he was speaking directly to me. What he tells me is why he believes in God and specifically why he is a Christian—not the topics that led me to review his book. Knowing that Wiman's cancer …

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  • Competing interests None

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.