• Lisa Hodorovych

Still Breathing Will Take Your Breath Away

As I finished reading Still Breathing by E.A. Fournier, I let out a long breath, like I was holding it in for years, and said, “Wow! What an incredible book!” This story had me laughing, crying, raging, and thinking. It took me on a roller coaster of emotions from beginning to end. And the storytelling is beautiful. The words flow out of each page so eloquently and the descriptions Mr. Fournier gives throughout the book makes you feel like you are standing there in Uganda with Lizzie, Nana, and all of the other characters. Want to learn more? Read on!

What is Still Breathing About?

Still Breathing tells the story of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Warton, an “older” woman who loses her husband to Alzheimer’s and, after doing so, decides to do something extremely drastic…travel to Uganda.

It all begins with Lizzie taking care of her ailing husband. She has been caring for him for ten years. In one of his more lucid moments, he tells her to do something; something for herself. She has taken care of him for so long and he feels like a burden, so he wants her to do “something that matters to” her. At the time, she had no clue what that meant.

As she attends one of her weekly church services, a pastor from Uganda, Pastor Agaba-Benjamin Kajumba (Pastor Kajumba for short) visits to tell his story for missions’ week. Lizzie soaks in his story. She talks to her friend, Ruth and Pastor Kajumba, and after much deliberation decides to travel all the way to Africa. Why? To help Pastor Kajumba organize a brand-new library at his school.

From the moment she left Minnesota, things did not go well for Lizzie. During her layaway in Amsterdam, she was caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. When she landed, she was drugged by a Ugandan taxi driver, as he was driving her to her destination, and stole all of her belongings. While in Uganda, she was in the middle of two terrorists’ bombings. Pretty much, this trip seemed doomed from the beginning.

Things Do Get Better!

However, things do get better for Lizzie. She's rescued by a young man (a street boy), Dembe, after being left in the middle of nowhere by the Ugandan taxi driver. After some time, she makes it safely to her final destination. She befriends the family housing her while she is in Uganda and a whole lot more. But what makes this story so interesting – and a page turner – is the synchronicities. How everything comes together in the end. I was holding the book in my hand, astonished how everything came together in a full circle.

Storytelling and Characters

If my memory serves me correctly, this is the first story I’ve read since Michael J. Sahno’s Whizzers that had so many different characters in it. This book has a good ten to fifteen different characters in it, but the thing is, each character, like in Whizzers, serves a major purpose in the story. Each character moves the story along in some way. It’s truly amazing how Mr. Fournier did it. You don’t get confused and you don’t get lost. Mr. Fournier moves the story along so well, there’s never a moment where you’re like, “Wait a minute! When did this character pop up and why is he/she there?”

It’s funny how we’re taught that there’s one main character, one protagonist, in a story. But I feel with this novel, there was more than one. Yes, the story follows Lizzie, but it’s not being told from her perspective. Still Breathing is written in the third-person perspective. I haven’t read a novel told in third-person in a long time. Personally, I prefer to read and write in the first-person perspective. I guess you can say it’s “easier” to read and write in first-person (at least for me) because I feel with third-person you can easily confuse the reader by going back and forth between the characters, but again, this doesn’t happen.

I felt like as I read the story, not only was I seeing and learning from Lizzie, but also from a couple of other characters: Nankunda “Nana” Birungi, Dembe, and Pastor Kajumba. All of them, along with Lizzie, grew so much throughout the book and learned such valuable lessons like don’t let your pride control you.

My Two Favorite Aspects of the Story!

There are two aspects of the story that I loved: the description and the emotional toll it takes on you. One of the first things I noticed about this book was the description that Mr. Fournier wrote throughout the story. It is so vivid, so precise, it doesn’t feel like you are there, but that you are there with Lizzie in the hospital with her husband, in Africa, in the middle of the terrorist attacks, etc. If you really “dive” into this story, you can probably feel the heat or smell the odors detailed in it. Some great examples are…

Example #1

“The center of Lizzie’s Cherrywood dining room table usually contained a delicate Havilland soup tureen with pink and blue floral patterns, and flanked by a pair of brass colonial candlesticks, but not this morning. This morning there were shoved aside, the premium spaces occupied by stacks of investment reports, social security letters, medical insurance documents, filed tax statements, life insurance papers, trust documents and mortgage records, along with all the other typical monthly invoices. Lizzie herself perched on one of the dining room chairs at the mid-point on the long side of the table. She busily jotted notations onto a legal pad and occasionally keyed numbers into a sleek digital calculator.”

Example #2

“Lizzie struggled to take it all in. Below her, there were long narrow roofs here and there, outlining the boundaries of the market. They looked like tall pole barns but without walls. In the middle area, she saw faded bouquets of umbrellas and fluttering blue tarps above the colorful masses of milling people. Buried beneath the moving shoppers, only the barest hint of a network of passageways could be discerned threading between the crowded stalls.”

Example #3

“The entire main room of the library was filled with stacks of boxes, four high, in lines that marched from the windows almost all the way across the room to the rows of empty bookcases.”

Those are only three out of so many examples I could pull from this 400-page book.

Raw Emotion!

The other thing I loved about this book is the raw emotion you feel as you read the story. There were times I laughed, I cried (especially toward the end), I was in complete shock, and I was enraged. One particular moment I can clearly recall almost ripping the book in half, I became so mad. It was when Lizzie told her one daughter, Joanie, she was going to Africa just after Joanie told Lizzie her husband won a trip to Cancun. Joanie was asking if she could watch their kids while they were away. The trip was in November, the same time Lizzie was leaving for Africa.

As Lizzie tried to figure out a way to tell her she wouldn’t be home to take care of her grandkids, Joanie kept on interrupting her, saying, “Surely, you have the time now…” Then, when Lizzie finally told her, her responses were, “Mother, have you completely lost your mind?”, “Mother, am I the last to know, like usual?”, and “What are we supposed to do? How will Mike and I go on our trip now? For God’s sake, Mom! How did you let this happen?”

After that last line, I might’ve been crying for Lizzie, but I could’ve spit fire. I was appalled at Joanie’s reaction. I mean a couple of lines later she apologizes, but still! If I ever said anything like that to my mother, she would have my head. Plus, I would like to think that I wouldn’t be so selfish. I was literally yelling at the book, “What is wrong with you? How could you treat your mother in such a way?” I was using more colorful language, but I think you catch my drift. One of the last times I remember feeling this raw emotion while reading a book was with Francine Garson’s Things and I love when I’m able to feel that. That’s when you really know you’re suspending disbelief.

My Recommendation

In conclusion, I would absolutely recommend Still Breathing by E. A. Fournier. It is an engaging book that will keep you on your toes from start to finish. By the way, this book is a part of the Book Readers Appreciation Group (B.R.A.G.), was a finalist in The Independent Author Network (IAN) Book of the Year Awards, and was a finalist in the 2018 The Wishing Shelf Book Awards. After you read it, you’ll see why. This book is perfect for anyone who loves some drama and suspense, but this is also a perfect book for book clubs. To learn more about E. A. Fournier, his books, and where you can purchase them, check out his website or follow him on Twitter.

Policies and Disclosure

Please remember I am not getting paid to write this review. I am just a fan and fellow author helping out another great author. To learn more, please check out my Policy page. Also, I would love to hear what you think of this review and of the book, if you’ve read it. You can either comment below (please read my “Comments Policy” on the Policy page before doing so) or contact me.

Photo Credit

The photos featured in this post are my photos. The first is my copy of Still Breathing by E. A. Fournier. The second is my “signature photo”, me with my copy of this incredible novel.

**This post was originally published on December 11, 2019**