Arno Geiger’s new book, The Old King in his Exile [High Wycombe: & Other Stories, 2017] is an uplifting memoir of the years in which he came to terms with his father’s transition into Alzheimer’s. Given that this is a situation we are all more likely to experience than ever before, these first-hand accounts can ease us more gently into understanding and into the ability to adapt and cope with what can only be a frightening experience without such help.
The author’s father, August, grew up in the Voralberg in Austria, the son of a small farmer with a large family. His tough early life was suddenly made worse by the Anchluss and the war into which he was swept up. He barely survived and then went on to have an unhappy marriage, retreating into his own routines and internal life. We learn all this as flashbacks interwoven with the account of how Arno, by now a successful novelist, begins to spend more time with his father to support the carers and other members of his family in caring for August as his dementia progresses. The perpetual feelings of frustration – the son’s feelings as he cannot ‘reason’ with his father, the father’s feelings as he cannot understand what is happening to his once well-ordered world – are recorded with clarity and sympathy.
Arno Geiger kept a careful record and has published this while his father is still alive rather than let it appear as a post mortem of their time together over the latter years. August comes over as a real person, not a cipher or any sort of ‘dummy’. The bonding of father and son radiates a warm glow throughout the entire book. For those, and they are many, facing similar issues, this is a useful and inspiring book. It comes out in January but you can order it now. Please do!
If you feel in need of more of a manual than a memoir, I commend Dementia, The One-Stop Guide by June Andrews [London: Profile, 2015]. Professor Andrews is the Director of the Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling. This is a comprehensive, practical guide aimed at everyone affected: families, professionals and people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as carers and sufferers. I suggest you need both books.