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Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home: A Memoir

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Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home begins at the grave of Katagiri Roshi, Natalie’s Zen teacher, in Japan. Twenty years after Katagiri’s death and Natalie’s return to New Mexico, she is permanently settled in Santa Fe with her partner, Yukwan. Except that, as Buddhism teaches us, nothing is permanent. Natalie learns that she has CLL, a potentially fatal form of blood Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home begins at the grave of Katagiri Roshi, Natalie’s Zen teacher, in Japan. Twenty years after Katagiri’s death and Natalie’s return to New Mexico, she is permanently settled in Santa Fe with her partner, Yukwan. Except that, as Buddhism teaches us, nothing is permanent. Natalie learns that she has CLL, a potentially fatal form of blood cancer.


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Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home begins at the grave of Katagiri Roshi, Natalie’s Zen teacher, in Japan. Twenty years after Katagiri’s death and Natalie’s return to New Mexico, she is permanently settled in Santa Fe with her partner, Yukwan. Except that, as Buddhism teaches us, nothing is permanent. Natalie learns that she has CLL, a potentially fatal form of blood Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home begins at the grave of Katagiri Roshi, Natalie’s Zen teacher, in Japan. Twenty years after Katagiri’s death and Natalie’s return to New Mexico, she is permanently settled in Santa Fe with her partner, Yukwan. Except that, as Buddhism teaches us, nothing is permanent. Natalie learns that she has CLL, a potentially fatal form of blood cancer.

30 review for Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Allyson

    Goldberg is a master writer and teacher. She touts "watching the way the writer's mind works" as the "way in" to any book a reader encounters. Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home gives readers a beautiful incursion into Goldberg's mind: how she discovers that she has cancer, puts off treatment because she doesn't want cancer to get in the way of her life, how she moves through the different stages of loss and acceptance of the disease, and ultimately, how she survives. Goldberg weaves her s Goldberg is a master writer and teacher. She touts "watching the way the writer's mind works" as the "way in" to any book a reader encounters. Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home gives readers a beautiful incursion into Goldberg's mind: how she discovers that she has cancer, puts off treatment because she doesn't want cancer to get in the way of her life, how she moves through the different stages of loss and acceptance of the disease, and ultimately, how she survives. Goldberg weaves her signature Zen approach into the pages, admitting that initially Zen fails her and she allows fear to take over. Who wouldn't? Her subsequent journey is a rich guide for anyone struggling--with disease or any circumstance beyond their control. Read it and keep it nearby for the next roadblock or insurmountable challenge that plants itself in your path. Thank you Natalie, as always, for sharing your words and your stories with us.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Frank Ostaseski

    I took Natalie Goldberg's Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home with me (which her publisher kindly sent) on a long coastal walk along the bluffs and beaches near Sea Ranch this past weekend. Tried to savor it by reading small bits that I imagined I would digest slowly. But it was too compelling. I had to nestle into the hollow of a rocky cliff, out of the wind, and let her tell me the whole unvarnished story. It was like sitting with her listening through the incalculable particulars of trea I took Natalie Goldberg's Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home with me (which her publisher kindly sent) on a long coastal walk along the bluffs and beaches near Sea Ranch this past weekend. Tried to savor it by reading small bits that I imagined I would digest slowly. But it was too compelling. I had to nestle into the hollow of a rocky cliff, out of the wind, and let her tell me the whole unvarnished story. It was like sitting with her listening through the incalculable particulars of treatments, the panic, the stillness, the tenderhearted relationship, your idiosyncratic way, the insights and ordinariness. An honest, real and sometimes raw meeting with life and death without apology. Brilliant, Natalie. It reminded me of a story Norman Fischer shared about a priests meeting at Green Gulch. One priest, then close to death from a long-term illness broke the quiet, polite exchange about zen practice shouting with a Lion’s Roar “I’M DYING! So many unforgettable moments on the impossibility of daily life with life-threatening illness. Struggling with an iPad keyboard, life in hospitals, the well-meaning but unsolicited advice of friends, mastering medical language like “hypermetabolic activity”, talking to cancer cells, and wanting to die. Thank you also, Natalie, for being so real about your relationship. Writing about offering almond butter packs to Yu-kwan, about refusing her gift of turquoise earrings, and gradually finding a way back to each other. My heart attacks almost destroyed my relationship. I’ve never felt so narcissistic as when I was caught in the struggle to survive. Loved the cemetery visits, a beautiful way to introduce the necessary conversations with the dead and to express Natalie's gratefulness. I was recently in the Cimitero Acattolico in Rome. It's adjacent to the Caio Cedtio pyramid a rather pretentious monument to a single (wealthy) individual. In the cemetery we found a gravestone for an unnamed baby. The inscription read “whose name is written on the water.” Amazing and rare book from Natalie. All the way to the bottom. No part left out.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Boone

    I had to force myself not to read straight through this book in one sitting. It pulled me in from its first pages. Why? Because, in this book, Natalie Goldberg doesn’t hold anything back. In these pages, she looks death squarely in the face, suffers deeply, and never really gives up her fierce fight. Actually, I lie. There is a point, about two-thirds into the book, where she does want to end her life. After returning from a writing retreat in Limousin, France (a retreat I participated in), she I had to force myself not to read straight through this book in one sitting. It pulled me in from its first pages. Why? Because, in this book, Natalie Goldberg doesn’t hold anything back. In these pages, she looks death squarely in the face, suffers deeply, and never really gives up her fierce fight. Actually, I lie. There is a point, about two-thirds into the book, where she does want to end her life. After returning from a writing retreat in Limousin, France (a retreat I participated in), she learns that she is ‘lit-up’ with cancer (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) because the last four months of treatment have been unsuccessful and she considers not going on with her life. Thankfully, this is the only moment of true doubt on her path to recovery. Most of the memoir is full of her quest to live life to its fullest even while facing death head on. I loved following her to the burial sites of her favorite authors and poets where she would place small stones of gratitude on their graves. In a non-Catholic cemetery in Rome, she left small stones on the graves of three poets: John Keats, Shelley, and Gregory Corso. When she couldn’t find the poet Richard Hugo’s grave in a cemetery in Missoula, Montana, she ended up going to a bar where he spent a lot of time instead. In Paris, she left an American penny on Simone de Beauvoir’s grave because there were no small stones available. Even though the memoir delves into the grittiness of dealing with cancer, it is also filled with many moments of Natalie’s irresistible humor: how she refers to herself and her partner as the cancer twins when they are diagnosed within months of one another with very different cancers, how she still makes time to savor slowly two scoops of ice cream (butter pecan and coffee) at Mr. Frosty’s after a solitary swim in Abiquiu Lake or how she makes sure to get the twenty percent discount while dining with the friend who drove her to her PET scan. Finally, Natalie’s lush descriptions of landscapes are always a delight to read. This is especially true when she describes New Mexico, an environment she bears witness to with such vividness that it is easy to see why they call this place the Land of Enchantment.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    I have been a Natalie Goldberg fan for 30 years and have read everything she has written, starting with "Writing Down the Bones" which completely changed my [writing] life in the early 90's. And I have studied with her a few times too, and always enjoyed my time writing and doing walking meditation with her. Like Natalie, I am both a writer and an artist. While I always find something I love in all of her books, I did have the feeling that the last several books were just repeats and blendings o I have been a Natalie Goldberg fan for 30 years and have read everything she has written, starting with "Writing Down the Bones" which completely changed my [writing] life in the early 90's. And I have studied with her a few times too, and always enjoyed my time writing and doing walking meditation with her. Like Natalie, I am both a writer and an artist. While I always find something I love in all of her books, I did have the feeling that the last several books were just repeats and blendings of her earlier writings, with nothing overly unique or new for me. This memoir changed all that. This is by far her most honest, deeply personal, and emotionally touching book yet. The wrenching emotional details of her discovery that cancer was raging throughout her body, and the physical details, decisions and dealings with the medical profession - chemical infusions, scans, drugs, etc. - are terrifying, and she brings it all right up there for all of us to share, and feel, in the simplest of language. Even a life lived with a zen mind does not overcome everything, and her terror and ponderings on death and dying are raw and tangible. This was not an easy book to read, for whom among us, whether we admit it out loud or not, does not have some innate fear of cancer? But her story is ultimately a rejoicing in the preciousness of life, and this topic arrived in my hands at a perfect time in my own life as I too find myself pondering how I want to live the last third or quarter of whatever time is left for me.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Thorndike

    When I was growing up no one mentioned the word cancer. It was never spoken of at the dinner table and rarely named in newspapers as the cause of death. Clearly, there was something shameful about it. Now, as I grow to be a certain age—that is to say, old—people all around me are getting cancer, and many have died of it. Any one of us could be next, and with friends this has become a steady topic of conversation. To put it in the best light, it’s a fascination—and there could not be a more compe When I was growing up no one mentioned the word cancer. It was never spoken of at the dinner table and rarely named in newspapers as the cause of death. Clearly, there was something shameful about it. Now, as I grow to be a certain age—that is to say, old—people all around me are getting cancer, and many have died of it. Any one of us could be next, and with friends this has become a steady topic of conversation. To put it in the best light, it’s a fascination—and there could not be a more compelling book about it than Natalie Goldberg’s latest. Of course she’s going to open up her heart when she tells us the story of her leukemia. She dismisses the shame by describing everything directly, in lucid prose, telling the hard truths and describing some small triumphs of consciousness. Zen is with us always in this book—and it has never been more needed. She writes: “In this moment, I use the truth of death to my advantage, as leverage, an edge into this delicious present.” That present moment is where Natalie always takes us, and why I read all her books.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Doherty

    This is my first Goldberg book, which has encouraged me to go back and read your previous works; her writing well illustrate her thoughtfully emotional journey is much more than a memoir. I loved the parallels of her Jewish upbringing compared to her Buddhist lifestyle. As well as her relationships, beautiful excursions to see where other writers lived, worked and does, and a tumultuous duel cancer battle. She writes like the the quote referenced- how a writer lives their life twice, first in the This is my first Goldberg book, which has encouraged me to go back and read your previous works; her writing well illustrate her thoughtfully emotional journey is much more than a memoir. I loved the parallels of her Jewish upbringing compared to her Buddhist lifestyle. As well as her relationships, beautiful excursions to see where other writers lived, worked and does, and a tumultuous duel cancer battle. She writes like the the quote referenced- how a writer lives their life twice, first in the act then reliving it in the written word. The story is worth reading every chapter, as much as feeling the closure to her memories by the gorgeous sentient blessing at the end.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sunil

    Overwhelmed There's life in this book which talks of death in very page. In every word, sentence, inflection, tone, tenor there is this overarching need to find something beyond - a meaning, an epiphany, a purpose. To see that nothing goes waste. Natalie revisits the smells, tastes and sights of very food, flower, road and hospital ward she visited. This book is a Zen journey through the senses, even as they start to do - and why it is important to vigorously choose life, even as you let yoursel Overwhelmed There's life in this book which talks of death in very page. In every word, sentence, inflection, tone, tenor there is this overarching need to find something beyond - a meaning, an epiphany, a purpose. To see that nothing goes waste. Natalie revisits the smells, tastes and sights of very food, flower, road and hospital ward she visited. This book is a Zen journey through the senses, even as they start to do - and why it is important to vigorously choose life, even as you let yourself loose on the river of inevitability.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rowe

    If you like Natalie Goldberg, then I can recommend this book because you get more of her love letters to the West and her large group of contemporaries. Whoever wants to write will like this book because she briefly discusses writing and goes on, maybe too long, with allusions to other writers. She makes me want to hike and live in New Mexico. I’m not sure how she makes money besides teaching. She’s not strapped, but deals with some money issues in this memoir. Then, she takes hiking trips in th If you like Natalie Goldberg, then I can recommend this book because you get more of her love letters to the West and her large group of contemporaries. Whoever wants to write will like this book because she briefly discusses writing and goes on, maybe too long, with allusions to other writers. She makes me want to hike and live in New Mexico. I’m not sure how she makes money besides teaching. She’s not strapped, but deals with some money issues in this memoir. Then, she takes hiking trips in the UK. Who knows? I think you get answers to Goldberg’s personal life in this memoir, but you also get it in BANANA ROSE, which is longer and more fun to read. I met Nat Goldberg in 2013, and felt like she was a little bitchy in real life. Turns out she was fighting cancer: “I couldn’t face my own sickness and death, and as a result I became scratcher, tighter, more agitated in some cellular unconscious way.” You never know what another person suffers in her life, so don’t take offense.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I devoured this book in two days. I have breast cancer and am in the middle of cancer treatment. In fact, I started in the chemotherapy centre. So this book had a special relevance to me. However, I’ve been a huge fan of Natalie Goldberg since the early 90s. She always writes from her heart but there is a raw vulnerability in this one, such honesty, spirit, and poetry. It fed my spirit. I may need to start from the beginning and read it again.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Q

    From lNatalie’s book: Spirit is Life it flows thru the death of me endlessly like a river unafraid of becoming the sea Gregory Corso “What else to say. All in that Corso poem” N.G. ~ “If this was true about destiny, cancer was my ally on that course. It pushed me out beyond any boundary I had known. It threw me right into the pool of fear, stripped me down to animal survival. Could I face that polarity of life and death and find another place to stand?”N.G. In the Great Spring there was a chapter when Nat From lNatalie’s book: Spirit is Life it flows thru the death of me endlessly like a river unafraid of becoming the sea Gregory Corso “What else to say. All in that Corso poem” N.G. ~ “If this was true about destiny, cancer was my ally on that course. It pushed me out beyond any boundary I had known. It threw me right into the pool of fear, stripped me down to animal survival. Could I face that polarity of life and death and find another place to stand?”N.G. In the Great Spring there was a chapter when Natalie wrote about intimacy. It was hard for her to be so open and honest and raw with her parents. Here in this bright red covered thunderous book she seems to have transcended that fear. And her voice has never been clearer and writing so tight. It’s also a blessed gift to all others facing C. Not alone. Not alone. A friend of mine with breast cancer was reading this and recommended it. It partially about the “nitty-gritty.” I felt compelled to read this myself. How do I without cancer understand more fully what it’s like? How do I get closer and be more fully present for those I love that are moving through C’s throes. This is such an honest book. Like others I couldn’t put it down. Not only did Natalie have C but her partner Yu-Kwan did too. Parallel worlds both trying to find their individual ways through. In the book Natalie with kindness and generosity offered this: “for the reader: when you go through extreme sickness, when everything you know and lived is tossed out the window and glass shatters —I want to say we are not crazy. This too is part of life. Don’t give up. Pay attention. We have to make ourselves larger to include the inconceivable.” And she offers so much more. Especially her presence in our lives.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sawnie Morris

    Finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home late last night. Who’d have ever thought a cancer memoir could be a page-turner? And one that brought me to tears, twice. This book is going to mean much to many. Aside from the story – Natalie Goldberg’s story – there is the clipped to-the-point writing itself and the organization of the book, which is brilliant. Seamlessly inserted midway through is a second story, that of Goldberg’s beloved Yu-Kwan. The elegance and Finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home late last night. Who’d have ever thought a cancer memoir could be a page-turner? And one that brought me to tears, twice. This book is going to mean much to many. Aside from the story – Natalie Goldberg’s story – there is the clipped to-the-point writing itself and the organization of the book, which is brilliant. Seamlessly inserted midway through is a second story, that of Goldberg’s beloved Yu-Kwan. The elegance and care in Goldberg’s delivery of Yu-Kwan’s story speaks volumes – no drama – and gives the reader cause to care about and admire this person who is also suffering yet not at center stage. The balance between Yu-Kwan’s calm determination in the face of cancer, and Goldberg’s raging ferocity and determination in the face of her own could not be more perfect. The personalities are so complexly drawn – each “character” drawing on traits and tactics in wrestling with cancer that had served not only their survival as children and young adults, but their flourishing in their adult lives prior to the cancer. The pieces are woven together with the precision of a haiku that manages —because of its lightning focus – “no part left out.” It’s masterfully done. A tour de force. Human anguish and struggle, but no self-pity. Brava, Natalie Goldberg!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shahd Mt.

    I’ve read Natalie Goldberg since I was 14 when I made a concious decision to be a writer. I’ve reread her craft books so many times. Reading this was so emotional for me. Natalie Goldberg was always larger than life. Immortal. To flip through pages and find her so vulnerable hit me hard. Throughout ths book, Natalie Goldberg pays her respects to the writers that shaped her and I wonder if she’ll ever know how much she shaped me. How her writing practice made me who I am and how much I think of he I’ve read Natalie Goldberg since I was 14 when I made a concious decision to be a writer. I’ve reread her craft books so many times. Reading this was so emotional for me. Natalie Goldberg was always larger than life. Immortal. To flip through pages and find her so vulnerable hit me hard. Throughout ths book, Natalie Goldberg pays her respects to the writers that shaped her and I wonder if she’ll ever know how much she shaped me. How her writing practice made me who I am and how much I think of her whenever I feel the words escape me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    I've read numerous books by Natalie and always enjoy them. She has a beautiful writing style. Her work always keeps me interested and looking forward to the next page and chapter. When I ordered this book I had no idea what it was about. I just saw she had a new book out and new I liked her writing, so I added it to my cart. I only learned she had cancer when reading this book about her battle with it. I really enjoyed the book, her take on battling cancer, learning about her girlfriend, and of I've read numerous books by Natalie and always enjoy them. She has a beautiful writing style. Her work always keeps me interested and looking forward to the next page and chapter. When I ordered this book I had no idea what it was about. I just saw she had a new book out and new I liked her writing, so I added it to my cart. I only learned she had cancer when reading this book about her battle with it. I really enjoyed the book, her take on battling cancer, learning about her girlfriend, and of her explorations near home and abroad. Two thumbs up for another book well done!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Natalie Goldbergs memoir of her cancer journey as it is informed by her years of Zen study and practice. Anyone who has survived cancer will understand the truth of this “Cancer pushed me beyond any boundary I had known. It threw me right into the pool of fear, stripped me down to animal survival. Could I face that polarity of life and death and find another place to stand?” I love Natalie, love her books, love that she survived and lives.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sunflower

    Great title. Each person's experience of their illness is different and this one is quite different, heavily influenced by her Zen training. The outcome is positive, but I actually enjoyed reading about her partner's story more than hers. And a few days later most of the book has faded from my memory. Sorry.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    I’m sorry to say that this Natalie Goldberg book did not fill me with her usual inspirational writing. Yes, this was her own personal cancer report; however, I kept thinking of all those readers who don’t have such medical connections and “friends in high places” for hope during a time of despair and confusion. This could have been just a personal essay.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    Oh, Natalie, I love your writing. Thank you for sharing your cancer journey and letting us know how you really feel and how you really are: human. I was in that class in France that you were supposed to lead.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Louden

    I love the way Natalie writes and this book is no exception. I adored the story about her girlfriend. However, her story as a whole didn't rise to the level of the universal for me. Still happy to read it and so glad she is cancer free.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Robin Morse

    Beautifully written memoir. A glimpse into the mind of a woman dealing with cancer and questioning life and death.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan Levin

    another great memoir from Natalie, my mentor.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    Poignant, I suppose, but not particularly insightful. The best part is the middle section where she tells the story of her girlfriend's life.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    One of the best tackling of the mental strain of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

  23. 5 out of 5

    pam wren

    This is as close to truth as one can get when telling about the big cancer machine. Her descriptions of relationships, Buddhism and prayer are beautiful and descriptive.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jo Heckel

    Wonderful writing and story. Sad situations. Ms Goldbergs s books are always so interesting and we'll written! Love them and reread them.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Really liked this book. I have read her writing books for years and when this recently popped up on an ad in Lion's Roar Magazine I went straight out to pick it up. Stellar writing.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Heartfelt memoir about enduring and surviving cancer while your partner is also undergoing a similar though separate cancer experience.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    A short and lovely read of Goldberg’s experience with cancer and facing her own mortality. As always, the writing is right on the mark.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sabena

    This memoir by one of the most well-known, well-published writing teachers in the US is an intimate portrait of the author's journey from cancer diagnosis at age sixty-six through treatment and through her return to health. Along the way, she shares some surprising details about her relationships with others while living life with a devastating illness. I think I wanted this long-time Zen meditation practitioner to handle her health crisis with greater equanimity and show more kindness to those This memoir by one of the most well-known, well-published writing teachers in the US is an intimate portrait of the author's journey from cancer diagnosis at age sixty-six through treatment and through her return to health. Along the way, she shares some surprising details about her relationships with others while living life with a devastating illness. I think I wanted this long-time Zen meditation practitioner to handle her health crisis with greater equanimity and show more kindness to those around her. Turns out, she's just as human as the rest of us.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Arja Salafranca

    Natalie Goldberg is known for her powerful way of teaching writing – and a number of books that challenge writers and would-be writers to use words and the craft in all sorts of interesting, original ways. But in Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, Goldberg explores her path through healing from cancer – both for herself, as well as her partner Yu-kwan, who is also diagnosed with the disease. How to go on from that – how to find the strength and courage to face this disease head-on when bo Natalie Goldberg is known for her powerful way of teaching writing – and a number of books that challenge writers and would-be writers to use words and the craft in all sorts of interesting, original ways. But in Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, Goldberg explores her path through healing from cancer – both for herself, as well as her partner Yu-kwan, who is also diagnosed with the disease. How to go on from that – how to find the strength and courage to face this disease head-on when both you and your loved one are diagnosed? This is partly what this fascinating memoir is about – as well as Goldberg’s very personal journey through being ill. There’s humour, and there’s anger; there’s getting lost within the medical system, there’s flying across country to meet new doctors. And through it all there is also Goldberg’s life-long Zen practice – and this too helps her get through the onslaught of weakness and medical treatments: “Cancer demanded that I let the whole thundering world come home, that I accept the horror and unknown of human life— and death. Zen taught that, too, but I was not ready to receive it.” But receive she had to. And cancer became a teacher too: “Cancer was teaching me how to carve out and live in a small space. I had to narrow my vision to stay on top of the drugs, the appointments, the weird changes in my body. The world shrunk to what was in front of me, to my immediate needs. Zen all along was trying to teach me to pay attention: this single sip from this cup of green tea— green tea was supposed to be a cancer preventative. This button on my shirt— unbutton it, it’s too hot. Even the screech of car brakes out the window— this, too. I’m still alive.” And cancer also forces her to think back over her life – to think back to her parents, and growing up and the differences between her mother and father. Cancer pushes her to the brink of hell – a hell that her partner shares. But a hell they cannot share together: “It felt as though we were carrying heavy sacks on our backs and had trouble moving toward each other. Time itself became awkward. …I leaned over and kissed her, but it had such a different resonance than it did before. Instead of passion, I could hear way in the distance the low sound of a bell tolling.” But this story of a battle with disease, and a kind of thrashing toward survival is both compelling, fascinating as well as horrifying. The best kind of memoir there is – highly recommended.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Space Station

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