“Book Review: Whole Heart”
Reviewed by Samantha Hui
A triumphant memoir that acknowledges pain and demands we do more than just live in it
Michelle Felix gifts us with her debut memoir Whole Heart: One Woman’s Incredible and Heartbreaking Journey from Africa to America. Serving as a beacon to those who feel trapped by their trauma, Whole Heart is the book to read when you are feeling lonely and like you’ll always be lonely. Author Michelle Felix offers us a guiding hand to lead us out of our sorrow, a chance to show us that joy is possible on the other side of pain.
Whole Heart follows a young Michelle as she navigates her tumultuous childhood in South Africa to the foreignness of America, where she finds comfort and joy while still facing adversity.
The memoir begins through Felix’s childlike lens as she watches her parents’ crumbling marriage, her mother’s suicide, and her father’s repeated abandonment. Inundated with the feeling that they’ve just been at the wrong place at the wrong time, she longs desperately for the safe and happy family she knows they can be. But along with hope, she carries the weight of the guilt of her family’s tragedies, as though she was the cause.
“I found healing by letting go of ‘If only I stayed.’”
Though her moments of happiness are often followed by disaster, Michelle works at establishing a more reliable and consistent joy as she leans into her faith, practices forgiveness, and creates new bonds. Whole Heart allows us to walk beside her as she perseveres and paves an independent life that she never thought possible.
From a confused girl, thrown from house to house, Michelle builds herself into a woman who travels the world as a flight attendant, receives a master’s degree, and marries a man who respects her the way she deserves. The book even contains a chapter dealing with their lives in 2020 during the chaos caused the pandemic. Over the span of this memoir, we see Michelle develop into a person who can face her misfortunes with a fierce and joyful resilience. It’s refreshing and inspirational.
“I spoke back, ‘I forgive you,’ and that was it.”
The authenticity of the memoir comes through most in Felix’s earnest and well-executed prose. But there are quotes from external sources that end the chapters of the book which can at times feel heavy-handed and distracting. But what’s charming is how the quotes at the latter half of the book move away from respected leaders and instead come directly from her. This shift represents the way in which Michelle becomes the guide of her own story, how she can now rely on herself to know and do what is best for her.
Fair warning for readers, Whole Heart contains quite a bit of sensitive and triggering content. However, it’s not so much about trauma as it is about discovering the possibility of joy after it. A reminder to forgive yourself as much as you forgive others, Whole Heart is a memoir that I’ll be thinking about for a long, long time.
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir
Print Length: 172 pages
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