Review: The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams


Reviewed by Efsane Karayilanoglu Toka

“If you’re here, then I’m not.” (ix) This is how Julie Yip-Williams starts her book. She turns your emotions upside-down. Knowing that the person who wrote those lines is not alive anymore gives you a different perspective as you turn the pages. It’s raw, it’s honest, it’s true. It’s about starting a life and also ending one.

On July 7, 2013, Julie learned that she had cancer. And her journey began. You want to sit in the passenger seat and take this journey with her, because she talks to her readers directly, as if she’s sitting in front of you. You get to her hear what she’d been through. That’s what makes her and her story sincere.

The book mostly depicts the years of her battle with cancer, but it also gives details of the monumental moments of Julie’s life before cancer, to draw a clearer picture of her mental and emotional state. She was living a borrowed life. That’s how she described her existence in this world, because her life was scheduled to end when she was four. She was born blind to a Chinese family in Vietnam, and her family thought she had no future. Who would marry a disabled woman and have children with her, anyway? They were doing her a favor. Then with some luck, fate, or whatever you’d like to call it, her life was spared. She and her family escaped on a boat to Hong Kong and then onto the United States. She had an operation, and some of her sight was restored. She tried not to let it restrain her, and that was how she managed to live forty-two years to the fullest until the moment it was finally taken away from her.

“Battling cancer occurs in not just the physical realm, but also the nonphysical realm, where the mind and spirit are challenged to find the will to keep fighting, to feel happiness despite the sadness, to find light amid the darkness, to laugh through the fear, to live with abandon and joy under the specter of death.” (77)

She never had a proper romantic relationship with a boy growing up, because her father was not a fan of the idea. Her family made her believe that nobody would stick around, care for her, or love her, because she was blind. Despite this, she was a hopeless romantic. She’d always dreamed of a husband and a family of her own. So she made a pact with God; if God took away her sight, then he should give her something in return. She chose love because “love was unattainable.” (28)

As she was waiting for the right time to find her prince charming, she traveled around the world. Like a free bird, she flew as far as she would, as high as she could. She never let her wings touch the ground. She learned more about herself and appreciated her being in this world. Back then, she thought that she was going to live forever, that she was invincible.

Then the cancer hit.

For a woman who had succeeded against all odds, the idea of dying and not being able to do anything about it consumed her as much as the cancer did. But at some point, she accepted death and started to make preparations for her family. She knew that her husband and two daughters were also deeply affected by this cancer. At some point, she wanted to leave the world so she could set her family free; free of sadness, free of tears, free of anger, free of her. Still, her survival instincts and her will to be with her family sometimes took over and dragged her into a dilemma:

“Is it more courageous to continue or to stop? Is it more loving to leave or to stay? I still don’t know.” (235)

As her cancer was taking away her life slowly, she was surrounded by friends and family, by love and care, the things she’d never experienced before. As her body was rotting, her soul was healing. Maybe that was one of the reasons she decided to write the blog that turned into this book. The Unwinding of the Miracle is not about cancer; it’s more about finding yourself, accepting who you are, fighting against difficulties, loving, and caring. It makes you think, ask questions, and open up your horizons.

Julie’s journey is admirable. She created possibilities in the impossible pool she was swimming in. Sure, before finding her peace and leaving the world with ease, she protested the news, cried a lot, was frustrated. She denied the reality, and she asked the same question over and over again. “How can this be happening to me?” Like her, this is the question we ask every time bad things happen to us. But maybe before asking it, first we need to think about the answer or the circumstances we’re in. Because, as Julie makes clear from the beginning, “Life is not fair.” (7)

We try to extend our lives at all costs but maybe we all should ask ourselves: “Why do we always assume that the ideal life is a long one?” (265) We never think that maybe quality over quantity is much more valuable. We should never take anything for granted; what we can do is live our lives to the fullest. And to have a fulfilling life we should utilize all those days that are given to us. As Julie’s mother asks: “Did you do the best you can?” If our answer is yes, “then that’s all you can do.” (155)

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