“Diabetes is not an “en vogue” disease.
It is not the kind of disease that gets a huge product campaign like breast cancer, nor is it portrayed as tragic and other worldly diseases like the AIDS epidemic in Africa. The public perception of diabetes is the polar opposite of the causes the media likes to promote. Instead of being seen as victims of illness, those millions living with diabetes are often seen as being lazy and unwilling to control their disease with a “simple” diet and exercise regimen. Paul Cathcart’s memoir stands to change that.
In writing “Persona Non Grata with Diabetes,” Cathcart opens the door a crack to shed some light on what it means to live with the disease. Beginning in the present, Cathcart starts at the end of his story, after years of testing, quick fixes, health scares, and doctor’s visits failed to manage his illness. But more than managing his illness, Cathcart seeks to the make others understand what it means to live with diabetes and see that it is a “state-of-being” as much as it is a physical problem, something those of us not conflicted with the illness fail to see.
With a quick wit and a sharp tongue, Cathcart weaves in and out of time to create a portrait of a young man trying to make it through life with the threat of his poor health looming in the background. He describes his childhood in Glasgow, Scotland growing up in a working class family with a single mom, who creates the picture that diabetes can and does happen to “normal,” everyday people. People that you went to school with, the first boy you kissed, or that friend with the great taste in music. The author has such a clear ear for dialogue and language that the reader can almost hear the words coming off of the page particularly when he describes his condition as “dying faster than I’m living.”
Throughout the memoir, Cathcart italicizes food items and restaurants such as “Rolo Ice Cream” and “Starbucks,” a technique used to signal the reader of how pervasive and accessible junk food is in Western culture. Seeing so many italicized words on the page is a frequent reminder to the reader of how hard it must be to be constantly reminded of everything you aren’t supposed to have as a healthy, fit person. For those of us not living with diabetes, it’s easy to take indulging in junk food for granted but it’s not life and death serious as it can be for a diabetic.
With the descriptions of his health scares and their adverse affect on his life, it would be easy to take Cathcart’s memoir as a sob story. But in-between the all too real descriptions of his illness, Cathcart keeps his humor and welcomes readers, both diabetic and non-diabetic, with the understanding that you don’t have to face life’s struggles alone. This book makes for an especially good read for those struggling with the sickness but it also serves as a good educational piece for those without.”
Tiffany Ezuma, Pacific Book Review, 27 November 2013