Review of The Old King in his Exile by Arno Geiger

I applaud the translator and author for bringing such a moving story to life. This poignant first person account of the effects of Alzheimer’s is an exercise in understanding life, love, family, and mortality.

The tragedy of memory loss is an inevitable problem one must recognize in adulthood, and reckon with in the ensuing decades. Here we are eased into the scenario and all it entails: measuring life, making adjustments, understanding, interpreting, and living with what life gives us. From it, we can draw many valuable lessons. We are treated to many wise aphorisms related to old age, which must have been culled from real life, and which convey the sincerity, gratitude, and struggle of the central person on the page.

We must, in the end, subsist off the dregs of ourselves, I suppose. And this book reminds us uncomfortably how in old age we are all diminished, once many of the aspects of our personality have fallen away, how we can find dignity in what’s left.

The setting and scenes are interspersed with many key details, adding essential pieces to the relatable relationships. Written in a smooth, refreshingly simple style – it is at bottom a personal story about overcoming the barriers erected by a very pernicious sickness that will at one point or another, likely seize one of our loved ones, and take away that person’s independence. It communicates the simplicity of life, the stubbornness of pride and the quiet simmering influence of memory, the lingering touch of war and the tug of family ties. Without the continuous humor and lighthearted pace it would become an overbearing reading experience, however, the author achieves true comedy and pathos often without sacrificing intellectual depth.