In The Asparagus Wars, Carol Major charts the life and loss of her daughter through illness - a battleground with many layers

  • The Asparagus Wars, by Carol Major. Spineless Wonders, $27.99.

Everyone experiences loss in their lives, but for some inexplicable reason, or perhaps no reason at all, some people seem to be subjected to far more pain, loss and suffering than others.

Carol Major is one such person. In her beautiful, but tragic, memoir, The Asparagus Wars, she charts the life and heart-wrenching loss of her daughter from a debilitating form of muscular dystrophy.

This is no ordinary memoir. Major recounts her story over the duration a 13-day stay in the Marne region of France after the death of her daughter.

The location of the retelling is no accident; two major battles took place in Marne during WWI.

Major likens chronic disease to the loss and suffering of war. The disease itself is the enemy that must be defeated.

The war is constant, but consists of multiple battles (crises within the illness), each wreaking damage, inflicting pain and resulting in strain on relationships.

There is negotiation to be done, both during war and rare times of peace. Different groups assert ownership over the disputed territory (Major's daughter).

And various family members have differing ideas on how the war can be won.

The war takes place on several levels: the war of illness, the war of survival, the wars between people, the war of death and grief.

Chronic disease is a cruel beast, and there is a multitude of "miracle cures" out there, with false and unsubstantiated life-saving claims that appeal to the desperate.

Helen Garner explored the mercenary nature of people touting such cures in her book, The Spare Room.

These people prey on the vulnerability of individuals and families who are hoping to save or extend life, and therefore willing to try anything.

Carol's ex-husband's wife is keen to try all sorts of life-sustaining therapies, including pureed asparagus drinks - ergo the book title.

But the deepest pain lies in the fact that, although the patient wants to live, as the disease progresses, it is often for others that she agrees to attempt various therapies.

This is a deeply intimate memoir that weaves together memory, history, lived experienced and grief.

Major speaks to the reader as if talking to her daughter, so we feel present, we feel her pain.

The writing is exquisite, tender and heart-wrenching.

The Asparagus Wars is not an easy read, yet it is intensely personal and profoundly moving.

  • Karen Viggers is a best-selling Canberra author. Her most recent book us The Orchardist's Daughter.
This story Intensely personal memoir of multi-layered war first appeared on The Canberra Times.