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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

April 25, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

THE ALCHEMY OF ILLNESS by Kat Duff (Pantheon: $19; 159 pp.) Counselor Kat Duff developed chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) in 1988, following the discovery that she had been molested as a child, and spent most of the following 24 months in bed. Those could have been wasted years, but Duff began taking notes in order to survive the still-mysterious disease, 'to dispel the eerie sense of unreality and invisibility I so often felt." "The Alchemy of Illness" is the result, and it proves to be an intriguing account of the author's attempt to find meaning in the pain and confusion she endured. Other writers, most famously Norman Cousins, have been here before, but Duff's work is distinctive in showing such allegiance to its subject--in the author's belief that pain and suffering can be positive forces, that symptoms must be felt and endured so patients can "be changed, informed, and even illumined by their presence in our lives." Duff draws on science--the idea of "cellular memory," for example--and mythology--such as the Nahuatl belief in a "deified heart," beyond physicality--and numerous other fields in the course of her exploration, making "The Alchemy of Illness" a book of surprising range. Duff, here, gives disease its due, recognizing that illness becomes fully devilish only when demonized by a patient and her culture.

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