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The author and her husband, Kenneth Grunzweig. The wharf in Buenos Aires, listening to three elderly men in Panama hats, smoking Cuban cigars, play the Spanish guitar.


"Burgess' tender recollections remind us that we tend to be defined by our great loves well after we have outlived them." - Elle Magazine

"Burgess lyrically and perceptively explores how the body, emotions and experiences are connected, how love and misfortune affect that landscape... Wrenchingly painful, but intensely affecting." -Kirkus

"...startling, memorable, and deeply moving. With gentle, deliberate strokes...increasingly engrossing... Burgess's journey possesses bravery and open-eyed clarity." - Publishers Weekly

"I read Glenda Burgess' poignant and harrowing memoir in one sitting-in one breath-and all I had ever felt about love's ability to vanquish everything, to swallow heartbreak, to correct history, Burgess makes us believe. And in a fashion that reads like a classic novel." -Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN

“The Geography of Love is a memoir that is a wonderful love story. We all know that falling in love can be powerful and consuming, but in the throes of passion we often forget how great love also carries risk. Love brings us immense joy but also makes us vulnerable. That's the other side of love. A shadow on Ken's lung changed everything. What happens after this is a very special love story that is more courageous and beautiful than the idyllic one that came before.” - Carol Fitzgerald, BookReporter.com (Reading Group Guides, June 27, 2008)

Published by Broadway Books, New York, 2008
Softcover release, 2009


The Geography of Love by Glenda Burgess
A DESIGN SO VAST : Posted: 13 May 2010 03:00 AM PDT by Lindsey Mead

I’ve always resisted the idea that we are – can be, should be, want to be – completed by another. Maybe that makes me independent, maybe lonely, maybe realistic. Also, I have never believed that there is a One out there for each of us; I think there are many Ones and that the one we wind up with is more about timing and luck. Maybe that makes me cynical, I don’t know. Glenda Burgess’s exquisite memoir, The Geography of Love, makes me question both of these long-held assumptions. She makes me believe in soul mates, and in the power of a single relationship to provide wholeness to a previously fragmented life.

Given my own fixation with maps and geography, with all the tools that we use, concrete and ineffable, to guide our way through life, I was predisposed to love this book. I did not, however, expect the completeness with which I’d tumble into Glenda’s world, that I’d be so completely seduced by her voice. She knocked me over twice in her first chapter alone, first with “And while the question of God himself frames the universe, the great mysteries exist in the human heart unsolved,” which echoes my growing awareness that beyond the questions there are more questions. And her description of her life before meeting her husband is a far more eloquent and lyrical summary of exactly what it is I write about so clumsily, all the time: "Eventually, I constructed a layered exoskeleton, a coral reef instead of a life. The structure was there, but the essence was missing."

It is a rare book that sends me to the dictionary almost once a chapter. An even rarer one that does so in an elegant, unforced way. This book did both. Glenda’s prose is never showy or flamboyant. It is simply elegant, intelligent, and full of metaphors that seem to spring from a deep intuition.

The Geography of Love is, most of all, a love story. Glenda describes falling in love with Ken, and taking a chance on a life together despite some red flags in his history that might send a more cautious woman running (twice widowed, he was a suspect in his second wife’s murder). Her narrative is interspersed with reflections on faith, meaning, and the soul. There are many sentences that made my breath catch in my throat, sentences that glitter like gems, that put into the perfect words, in the perfect order, things deep in my heart. For example: “How do you know a heart? The life only tells the journey.”

The story that Glenda tells of her life with Ken and their two children is evocative and personal. The bulk of the book traces Ken’s illness with cancer, his deteriorating health and their movement as a family towards his death. Glenda seems certain that Ken is her destiny, that her path was always meant to lead to him (“In every way, he was my true home, my center of gravity.”) At the same time, she evinces raw reverence in the face of life’s great mystery, circles around the essential unknown at the heart of the human experience. In her very first chapter, those five pages that are as beautiful as any prose I’ve read in a long time, she talks about “quintessence: the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form … Quintessence, like faith, remains unproven: a deductive belief.” Certainty and the unknown, tangled inextricably together.

Interleaved into this story of an ordinary life and an uncommonly strong love are Glenda’s reflections on the great currents of feeling and belief that I think run through all of us. She accomplishes what is surely the highest aspiration of memoir: taking a deeply personal story and telling it in a way that examines and explicates universal emotions and experiences.

The scene of Ken’s death, which happens at home and in Glenda’s presence, is among the most powerful I’ve ever read. She writes of watching – feeling – his soul leave his body. She is suffused with grace as she sits with the body of the man who has become the geography of her life, of her love. Her courage and humanity in sharing this scene, this most private of moments, awes me. The book ends with Glenda moving towards the “formal feeling” that Emily Dickinson said came after great pain. Even in her grief, she continues to respect the forces beyond our control and understanding that shape our lives, and her gratitude for what she shared with Ken clearly overwhelms the pain of her loss.

This is a gorgeous, lucid, moving book. It is sad but also profoundly hopeful. For me, the most enduring of Glenda’s messages is that in abandoning ourselves to – even embracing – all that we cannot know, there can be peace and comfort. The Geography of Love is the story of two human beings, whole and flawed and full of love, and of the path they walked together. It hints at the path that lies ahead for the one who survives, and, even, at the path ahead for the one that dies.

"Life distills in the elements of chaos and chance. Vagary, arcane and capricious, hints at destiny and confounds God, adumbrates the fragile human landscape."