Book Reviews

The enduring personal impact of being born with a defective heart is explored in unsparing and unforgettable detail by Steven G. Taibbi in his powerful new book Grateful Guilt: Living in the Shadow of My Heart. Taibbi, a video producer/director and writer, delivers an intensely honest first-person narrative that begins with his first surgery at the age of five and concludes with his second heart transplant. “This is not a story about heart trouble, per se,” Taibbi writes, “but rather about how such concerns managed to permeate and affect every aspect of my life.”

Having made medical history by the age of six because of the number and complexity of his heart surgeries, Taibbi’s doctors repeatedly advised his parents of his imminent mortality, only to be proven wrong each time. The author – now in his sixties – provides (literally) heart-rending recollections of the terrors of spending weeks in austere hospital environments back when medical culture regarded sickly children as “problems” lacking personal human dignity. These scenes are interwoven with memories of his mother’s fierce and unyielding love, his 1960’s suburban upbringing, and how his condition inevitably isolated him from the “normal” life enjoyed by his siblings and (occasionally abusive) classmates.

Poignant, harrowing, and occasionally hilarious, Taibbi’s direct, clear style of writing makes his story accessible to a wide audience, irrespective of age or social background. The result is a compelling narrative that encourages others similarly afflicted to know they’re not alone. It also enables families, friends, and others to appreciate what it’s like to be shortchanged by a capricious universe. That said, at no time does the author portray himself as a victim, but instead as someone who early on resolved to defend himself mentally and physically against harsh and agonizingly intrusive medical procedures and the constant specter of death. Taibbi recounts his ingenious survival strategies and the fierce determination that eventually enabled him to blossom into a dynamic adolescent passionate about girls, cars, and auto mechanics, and later become an ambitious and successful adult living life on his own terms as a songwriter, photographer, TV producer, glider pilot, magazine columnist, salesman, and the VP of Transplant Speakers, Int’l.

Grateful Guilt: Living in the Shadow of My Heart is a captivating, inspiring, and life-affirming account destined not only to empower those with congenital disorders and/or transplanted organs, but also to help “healthy” people appreciate those who aren’t, and the folly of anyone ever taking their health for granted.