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Book Review: Narrative Art and the Politics of Health

Steven Rhue // 

Narrative Art and the Politics of Health stands out as wonderful collection of essays that unites disparate stories of health and wellbeing entangled with in the politics of medicine and healing. Brooks and Blanchette have carefully organized this assortment of writings in three thematic divisions. Part 1 of the volume concerns institutional narratives that confront white supremacy, while Part 2 details narratives of cultural experiences and societal pressures. Part 3 concludes with analyses of fictional narratives addressing representation, healing, treatment, and choice. In chapter order, contributing authors include Mitchell Gauvin (ch1); Evadne Kelly, Seika Boye & Carla Rice (ch.2); Jennifer Poole & Carmen Galvan (ch.3); Eli Clare (ch.4); Jessica Polzer & Pamela Wakewich (ch.5); Aaron Martin. Clarisa Barrera Garza, Mubashar Khan & Luaren McKenzie (ch.6); Dan Graham (ch.7); Gracie Marsden (ch.8); Patricia Milanes (ch.9); Christopher Lockett (ch.10); Synapsis’s very own Amala Poli (ch.11); and Matthew Tomkinson (ch.12).

The breath of stories contained within is both gripping and refreshing. Our understanding of health and wellbeing is often unintentionally limited to our personal stories and circumstances. The chapters of Narrative Art and the Politics of Health help to break that unintentional focus and expose readers to realities outside of their own. Chapter by chapter, the authors share stories of race, embodiment, stigma, disability, and disease among many others. They remind us of just how varied the experiences of health and wellbeing are. Each story offers a valid critique of the dominant biomedical discourse and, as a whole, the book advocates the importance of medicine to recognize lived subjectivity. Further, the essays evoke a meaningful emotional response, and it these emotions that so effectively communicate the stories of health inequities many face. 

While the volume largely maintains a focus on health and wellbeing within a North American context, the authors’ analyses often transcend geographic and temporal limitations. Wonderful examples of this include the work of Gauvin, Marsden, and Poli. Gauvin discusses the western medical perceptions of black bodies during the trial of a British slaving captain in the 18th century; Marsden explores multicultural ideas of suicide as a Taiwanese American; and Poli examines the mental health and family life in India. Thus, Narrative Art and the Politics of Health offers a selection of readings for a diverse audience and, no matter the focus of the writing, the insights and meanings produced are transferable. 

As with almost every other facet of life, due to COVID-19, Brooks and Blanchette admit that some elements and contributions to the book were impacted. Yet in no way did I find this to lessen the value of the articles submitted. In fact, as the editors note, many of the writings took on an additional meaning against the backdrop of a devastating pandemic that highlighted the political discourse and inequality around health and wellbeing. Perhaps selfishly, the volume offered a welcome escape, as most everyday has been flooded with unfortunate news of COVID ravaging citizens across the globe, vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy, as well as the unequal distribution of life saving vaccines. However, the parallels between the experiences of COVID 19 and the topics of this book are striking, perhaps even inevitable, as the political aggressions and biases that produced the concerns of many chapters, remain ever present.

It was a pleasure to read and review Narrative Art and the Politics of Health. To all our Synapsis readers, I recommend it, and I hope that you come to appreciate the work of the authors and editors as I did. 

Brooks, N. & Blanchette, S. (Editors). Narrative Art and the Politics of Health. Anthem Press. 2021. ISBN: 978-1-78527-710-8

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