“I wanted to bring the taboos of Alzheimer’s into the open”

Bestselling author Lisa Genova told a packed audience at the Sharjah International Book Fair yesterday (Friday) how her experience as a neuroscientist and her inspiration as a writer combined to create a series of bestselling novels, including ‘Still Alice’, which was made into an Oscar winning movie.

The American scientist who wrote the book after her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, said that she had felt sympathy but not empathy and wanted to understand more how her grandmother was feeling and suffering.

“I realised that as part of any family who has a relative with this condition and my knowledge as a scientist, I was very much looking at things from the inside and then realised that it may be more important to be on the outside looking in. I have always loved fiction and been an avid reader and when I had researched this disease so much to gain an insight into my grandmother’s situation, I thought about writing Still Alice.

“I wanted to explore the reasoning that if someone thinks ‘I can’t remember who I am, do I disappear?’ and which brings up the question of ‘what makes a meaningful life?’

“The more I got to know about the disease, the more I wanted to drag the disease out of the closet and no longer make it a taboo subject. I wanted people to not be afraid of discussing it and hiding from it. Fifty years ago it was the same with cancer, when people would not even mention its name, as if saying ‘The Big C’ would give them some kind of immunity. Now we positively embrace conversation and information about cancer and that is what I would like to do with Alzheimer’s.”

Genova, who began her writing career as a self published author selling her books from the trunk of her car has gone on to write three more New York Times bestsellers, all of which deal with neurological traumas or diseases, with another set to come out in March 2018.

“I always wanted to be a scientist but the more I looked into biology I was left thinking that the heart is a pump and the kidneys are filters, but the brain is really something else. It is the source of everything we do.

“When it comes to writing a book of this sort, I believe that research is everything, I want to tell the truth and I want to tell it as it is. When I was writing the book with a pianist as the central character, I researched several players and even took up lessons myself. And with the main police character, I went on patrol, put on a bullet-proof vest and even spent some time in a police cell.

“With many of my characters, I deliberately try to put the characters in a position where readers can see the most dramatic effect. It’s a delicate line, but to be honest there is no subject which is off-limits. We are talking about the deepest darkest issues. People are dying and I want to talk about these unspeakable, scary stories.

“With my background, I could just write about science, but that would just be like homework, so I have to weave it into the story. That’s when we realise as well that someone with a disease like this may not have the capacity to speak – but what about those of us who are perfectly capable but don’t say the things that really matter? Saying ‘I love you’ or ‘sorry’ or even ‘how are you’? Hopefully it will make people think about that too.”