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Young Widower: A Memoir

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John W. Evans was twenty-nine years old and his wife, Katie, was thirty. They had met in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh, taught in Chicago, studied in Miami, and were working for a year in Romania, when they set off with friends to hike into the Carpathian Mountains. In an instant, their life together was shattered. Katie became separated from the group. When Evans finally John W. Evans was twenty-nine years old and his wife, Katie, was thirty. They had met in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh, taught in Chicago, studied in Miami, and were working for a year in Romania, when they set off with friends to hike into the Carpathian Mountains. In an instant, their life together was shattered. Katie became separated from the group. When Evans finally found her, he could only watch helplessly as she was mauled to death by a brown bear. In such a love story, such a life story, how could a person ever move forward? That is the question Evans, traumatized and restless, confronts in this book as he learns the language of grief, the rhetoric of survival, and the contrary algorithms of holding fast and letting go. His memories of Katie and their time together, and the strangeness of his life with her family in the year after her death, create an unsentimental but deeply moving picture of loss, the brutality of nature, and the unfairness of needing to narrate a story that nothing can prepare a person to tell. Told with unyielding witness, elegance, and care, Young Widower is a heartbreaking account of a senseless tragedy and the persistence of grief in a young person’s life.


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John W. Evans was twenty-nine years old and his wife, Katie, was thirty. They had met in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh, taught in Chicago, studied in Miami, and were working for a year in Romania, when they set off with friends to hike into the Carpathian Mountains. In an instant, their life together was shattered. Katie became separated from the group. When Evans finally John W. Evans was twenty-nine years old and his wife, Katie, was thirty. They had met in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh, taught in Chicago, studied in Miami, and were working for a year in Romania, when they set off with friends to hike into the Carpathian Mountains. In an instant, their life together was shattered. Katie became separated from the group. When Evans finally found her, he could only watch helplessly as she was mauled to death by a brown bear. In such a love story, such a life story, how could a person ever move forward? That is the question Evans, traumatized and restless, confronts in this book as he learns the language of grief, the rhetoric of survival, and the contrary algorithms of holding fast and letting go. His memories of Katie and their time together, and the strangeness of his life with her family in the year after her death, create an unsentimental but deeply moving picture of loss, the brutality of nature, and the unfairness of needing to narrate a story that nothing can prepare a person to tell. Told with unyielding witness, elegance, and care, Young Widower is a heartbreaking account of a senseless tragedy and the persistence of grief in a young person’s life.

30 review for Young Widower: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    I won this book on Goodreads First Reads. I want to put a little background first: On September 2013 my only and older sibling passed away in a single-vehicle accident. While driving along a dark empty country road on his way home in the early hours of the morning, he fell asleep and lost control of his vehicle. He died on impact. Even though we had walked past each other that day, we never said two words to the other. We were too caught up in our own busy worlds. Perhaps both of us were convince I won this book on Goodreads First Reads. I want to put a little background first: On September 2013 my only and older sibling passed away in a single-vehicle accident. While driving along a dark empty country road on his way home in the early hours of the morning, he fell asleep and lost control of his vehicle. He died on impact. Even though we had walked past each other that day, we never said two words to the other. We were too caught up in our own busy worlds. Perhaps both of us were convinced not acknowledging each other this one time wasn't a big deal, after all I assumed we had plenty of time for exchanges both pleasant and unpleasant as we grew older and grumpier. I didn't realize as I watched him walk out of the door, that he was leaving forever. That being said, this book was amazing. While I realize losing my brother is completely different than losing a wife (especially when she passed so tragically), this book helped immensely with the confusing rush of emotions that was the grieving process. It helped me realize what I felt was normal, that no two people will grieve alike, and we will never "move on" but it is important we find the strength to keep on living. The writing was touching, heartbreaking, honest, and so well thought out. Grieving isn't pretty, and Mr. Evans displayed a lot of bravery in writing about his own experiences, giving us the honest and ugly truth about a topic many Americans regard as "taboo". When I finished the book, I passed it onto my parents. My mother has read and re-read it, telling me she draws comfort from the author's strength. Thank you, Mr. Evans for having the courage to write about such a tragic experience and to reveal the ugly truth behind the grieving and healing process. It shows the world that no matter how we choose to grieve, we're never truly alone. The grief will always linger with us no matter how many years have passed, but we mustn't let it scare us away from learning to live again.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Liralen

    Evans and his wife had every reason to believe that they were only at the beginning of a rich and satisfying life together when they set off to hike in the mountains in Romania, where they were living for a year. They were educated and driven, and Katie in particular had itchy feet that took them from place to place. It was working. This is a memoir mostly of the aftermath of Katie's death—she was killed by a brown bear near the end of their hike—but also of their life together and of Evans's exp Evans and his wife had every reason to believe that they were only at the beginning of a rich and satisfying life together when they set off to hike in the mountains in Romania, where they were living for a year. They were educated and driven, and Katie in particular had itchy feet that took them from place to place. It was working. This is a memoir mostly of the aftermath of Katie's death—she was killed by a brown bear near the end of their hike—but also of their life together and of Evans's experience watching her die. It centers around that one event, but for the most part it's a very inward-focused book as Evans struggles to make sense of Katie's death, his role, what their relationship was and what it might have—or might not have—become had Katie lived. Competing guilt (that they hadn't been walking together, that he was unable to save her, etc.) and confusion about how to grieve and whose grief counts and whether or not her family, his in-laws, will remain part of his life. It makes sense that Evans has a poetry background; the language here is...not entirely spare, but very precise. Not cold, but distanced. That precision is one of the things I like best about reading the prose of (some) poets; also satisfying that he's able to articulate the changing face of his grief in the year following Katie's death.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    This is a highly internal memoir, hauntingly so. With its distanced, dream(nightmare) quality, the narrative voice reflects the shock of trauma. Being in the mind of someone who has undergone what John underwent it unsettling and powerful. I was especially taken with his obsessions, and his unexpected emotion (such as when a kind of manic joy peeks through the pain). This isn't normally the type of memoir I read. But I was so taken with the poetic, haunting voice that I stayed with it. No questio This is a highly internal memoir, hauntingly so. With its distanced, dream(nightmare) quality, the narrative voice reflects the shock of trauma. Being in the mind of someone who has undergone what John underwent it unsettling and powerful. I was especially taken with his obsessions, and his unexpected emotion (such as when a kind of manic joy peeks through the pain). This isn't normally the type of memoir I read. But I was so taken with the poetic, haunting voice that I stayed with it. No question, this is a dark, deeply internal book--so much so, I often thought of Dostoyevsky. John has remarried and has two children. I would have liked to hear about that journey; how did he get from here to there? Perhaps that's the next memoir.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maura Elizabeth

    John and Katie Evans were typical young outward-looking Americans: they met as Peace Corps Volunteers in Bangladesh, worked and went to graduate school back in the U.S., then moved to Romania so Katie could take a job with a public health NGO. Energetic, well-traveled, and curious, they moved toward the future without making specific plans for it, confident that they’d decide their next step when the time came to take it. And then, one ordinary weekend, they went hiking in the Carpathian Mountai John and Katie Evans were typical young outward-looking Americans: they met as Peace Corps Volunteers in Bangladesh, worked and went to graduate school back in the U.S., then moved to Romania so Katie could take a job with a public health NGO. Energetic, well-traveled, and curious, they moved toward the future without making specific plans for it, confident that they’d decide their next step when the time came to take it. And then, one ordinary weekend, they went hiking in the Carpathian Mountains and Katie, separated from the group, got mauled to death by a bear while John watched from ten feet away. Young Widower is John’s attempt to make sense of that weekend and the year that followed, as he grieved Katie’s death while living with her brother’s family in Indiana. There’s no real arc to the book—Evans doesn’t recount a plunge into depression and then a breakthrough leading to recovery. Instead, his memoir meditates on the very ordinariness of grieving while following the banal routines of suburban life, part of a family that has birthdays to celebrate and school lunches to pack and their own problems to deal with. He has good days and he has bad days, and eventually, he is ready to move on, though not to leave behind the guilt he feels for not having done more to save Katie from the bear. Evans is honest about how he loved Katie deeply, but also found her frustrating; how neither one of them knew if their marriage would last; and how he had thrown up his hands and walked away from her minutes before her death, as the two of them had one of the hundreds of petty disagreements that couples always have, never imagining that his last (unspoken) words to her before the bear attack would be “Suit yourself.” Evans is an eloquent writer, and Young Widower is a spare, meditative book that considers how an inconceivable tragedy is followed by the very ordinary work of figuring out a new course in life. It seems wrong to say that I “liked” the book, but it’s one of the deepest, most thought-provoking memoirs I’ve ever read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lesley Ross

    John Evans has managed to present his accounting of a wrenching tragedy which befell his marriage with honesty and responsibility. Without his outstanding skill in written presentation, reading his memoir would have become too painful, too chilling. Instead the reader is able to celebrate his beloved Katie, their friends and families and his personal survival with deep respect and hope.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Mr. Evans gently carries the reader to places in his memory - and places inside ourselves - that are anything but gentle. The journey feels safe in his hands.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mary E Trimble

    John and Katie Evans were again living and working abroad, this time in Romania. They met while serving with the Peace Corps in Bangladesh from 2000 to 2002. John, 29, a writer, and Katie, 30, who worked in Bucharest leading an educational effort on HIV/AIDS and family violence prevention, joined friends on a hike in the Carpathian Mountains on June 23, 2007. They had planned to stay in a hostel near Bucharest for the night, but upon arrival found there were no rooms available. Although it was ne John and Katie Evans were again living and working abroad, this time in Romania. They met while serving with the Peace Corps in Bangladesh from 2000 to 2002. John, 29, a writer, and Katie, 30, who worked in Bucharest leading an educational effort on HIV/AIDS and family violence prevention, joined friends on a hike in the Carpathian Mountains on June 23, 2007. They had planned to stay in a hostel near Bucharest for the night, but upon arrival found there were no rooms available. Although it was nearing evening and darkness, they felt there would be time to hike to the next hostel, about a mile away. On the way, the group became separated. John ended up with the faster group, anxious to get to the hostel while rooms were still available. Katie, with the slower group, nursed a sore ankle. When he approached a stream, John decided to wait for the slower group to help them across, telling the others to go ahead and secure their rooms. When Katie’s group didn’t come, he circled back, but at first couldn’t find them. He heard screaming and found Katie, pinned down by a large brown bear. Young Widower is the tragic story of this horrendous event and the aftermath of dealing with overpowering grief. The story goes back in time to their earlier years, their families, and day-to-day lives, allowing the reader to know those involved. Evans’ description of coping with his great loss, plus the horrific memory of witnessing and hearing his wife’s final moments is deeply moving. Young Widower is an extraordinary read, both poignant and revealing about the human spirit.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    After seeing some of the positive editorial reviews of this memoir, I read this book and recommended it to my book club. “Enjoy” is the wrong word for this book, which is an intimate, heart-wrenching account of love, loss and recovery after the death of the author’s spouse. The author gives a rare, personal look into the soul of another human being facing unimaginable tragedy, and that is the real gift that this book gives to its readers. One of the notable aspects of this book is the deep self-re After seeing some of the positive editorial reviews of this memoir, I read this book and recommended it to my book club. “Enjoy” is the wrong word for this book, which is an intimate, heart-wrenching account of love, loss and recovery after the death of the author’s spouse. The author gives a rare, personal look into the soul of another human being facing unimaginable tragedy, and that is the real gift that this book gives to its readers. One of the notable aspects of this book is the deep self-reflection shown by Mr. Evans. I had a lot of admiration for the author's courage in sharing his journey with the general public. As happens in so many situations in which loved ones die too early, it is easy to second-guess your choices and actions, but much harder to find peace in recognizing that some circumstances have no right answers – and then to move forward and share your story with the world as the author has done here. I also thought that the author did a nice job of sharing of himself publicly, while telling the story of living with his late wife’s family and balancing their need to grieve and experience their lives privately. I did think that the book ended too early. By the end of the book, I had become engaged with the author and his story and wanted to know what happened after he left Indiana and drove away in his car. Perhaps, this will be covered in a sequel. This book is a highly recommended. It is rare for any memoirist to give so intimate a portrait of the self-doubt, loss and recovery following this type of tragedy. Mr. Evans does a beautiful job in Young Widower.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rand Rhody

    I read this because I had an acquaintance with the author. This memoir is an eloquent meditation and thorough guidebook to the nuances of guilt and grief for those who have suffered a traumatic loss. In this respect it is superbly written. I have not come across anything of similar self-awareness and self-examination. While an outstandingly good “write”, for me it moves too slowly to be a good “read”. I notice mostly women have written reviews. I sense it will appeal to men who are experiencing l I read this because I had an acquaintance with the author. This memoir is an eloquent meditation and thorough guidebook to the nuances of guilt and grief for those who have suffered a traumatic loss. In this respect it is superbly written. I have not come across anything of similar self-awareness and self-examination. While an outstandingly good “write”, for me it moves too slowly to be a good “read”. I notice mostly women have written reviews. I sense it will appeal to men who are experiencing loss and can recognize their own trials so completely described. Less so to the general male audience. The biggest critique I have is that the 29- and 30-year-old couple seem to live in a privileged world of comfort. Life has not exposed them to much hardship of their own or of others. So when fate deals a bad hand, the widower is surprised, and indulges in his own misfortune. From the personal we don't grow to appreciate the universal. Yet to be acknowledged are the misfortunes of humanity everywhere: unwilling migrants, terror attack survivors, disaster victims, war casualties. Even in grief, the young widower can indulge in comforts and companionship: a new car, travel, friends and family to take away the burdens, fine wines and expansive dining, intensive therapy, entertainment, every sort of everyday leisure. In short, many forms of relief that most survivors don’t have. This makes it difficult to unconditionally empathize, hence four instead of five stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This was a very interesting memoir. I found the style of writing challenging at times because the thoughts and memories would jump all over the place so quickly and without warning--just like our actual thoughts might be. I felt like I wanted to know more in the end about how the author was doing presently since Katie's passing. The book was published in 2014 and Katie died in 2007, but the book didn't discuss anything past the one year anniversary of her death. The memoir was emotionally hard t This was a very interesting memoir. I found the style of writing challenging at times because the thoughts and memories would jump all over the place so quickly and without warning--just like our actual thoughts might be. I felt like I wanted to know more in the end about how the author was doing presently since Katie's passing. The book was published in 2014 and Katie died in 2007, but the book didn't discuss anything past the one year anniversary of her death. The memoir was emotionally hard to read at times, but very moving.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is a beautiful account of grief and, perhaps even more, of discovering the possibilities and strictures of one's new self after trauma. It is a story anyone who values self-awareness can relate to and admire, regardless of what life altering events one has experienced (positive or negative, really). I can honestly say that reading this book has helped me understand both grief and joy more completely. A rare read, and a must read, in my strong opinion. I know I will read chapters in it again This is a beautiful account of grief and, perhaps even more, of discovering the possibilities and strictures of one's new self after trauma. It is a story anyone who values self-awareness can relate to and admire, regardless of what life altering events one has experienced (positive or negative, really). I can honestly say that reading this book has helped me understand both grief and joy more completely. A rare read, and a must read, in my strong opinion. I know I will read chapters in it again and again throughout my life.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Maria Hummel

    Evans's account of what happened to him and his wife is harrowing, but what makes "Young Widower" so good is the steady, precise, illuminating narrator who guides the whole story from early marriage to Katie to the aftermath of her death. Evans never falters in his candor or in his search for meaning. His memoir developed alongside a book of poems, "The Consolations," also a work of penetrating insight into grief, and I recommend reading them together.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eldon Greenberg

    "Young Widower" is a deeply moving memoir of grief and loss. John Evans (who, I confess is married to my niece) has captured in all its complexity and emotional depth what it is to lose a loved one at an early age. In lyric prose that belies that the horror of the tale, John unflinchingly examines his own and others' response to an unspeakable tragedy. His heart-rending story is one that will stay with readers a long time.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    Well I'm pretty biased because I know the author but this was a beautiful book about life, love, and grief and sorting out a new course in life when events suddenly change. There's a lot that I think anyone can relate to and find solidarity in John's experiences. Well done, John. Proud to recommend your book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    May-Ling

    3.5 stars. good writing and a compelling story - the fact that john evans had such a tragic event happen to him is enough to draw you in. at times, i found it difficult to follow, since the story isn't told chronologically. and like grief itself, the narrative can wallow. you certainly gain the experience of feeling loss, and it's not a pleasant one.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Molly Sause

    Young Widower is an intimate portrait of a love, a marriage, and a great loss. Evans is poignantly candid as he lets us share in his memories and his grief. If a marriage is, in part, being witness to another's life, then Evans allows the reader to understand the beauty of Katie's short life. Young widower is a lovely tribute to Katie and the power of survival after tragedy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aisha

    This book is powerful! What was most impressive was the author's ability to express such raw and honest truth of what that internal voice might say during and after an unforeseen moment of horror. It was an honor to read Evans' intimate details of grief and the immediate journey of survival.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I didn't sleep. I read it in one night.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sheila Evans

    Well written, poignant & heart wrenching memoir. The author shares his inner most emotions & feelings as he bravely struggles through the grief process. Highly recommend. Well written, poignant & heart wrenching memoir. The author shares his inner most emotions & feelings as he bravely struggles through the grief process. Highly recommend.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    An excellent writer, dealing with an extremely difficult subject...well done, tho difficult to read

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alishia Joubert

    I loved the honest reflection of this book. I felt that it was a poignant observation of the grief process that anyone who has lost someone, not only a spouse, can relate to.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Loved it

  23. 4 out of 5

    Janine Sahm

    A courageous and self-reflective look at how one survives the unimaginable. With little to no rules out there for how a young widower should grieve, Evans explores and shares how he stumbled through to survival.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Not to be a morbid voyeur, but I enjoy reading memoirs about grief. Grief is both deeply personal and experienced universally. I am also intrigued by how modern America has moved away from grieving rituals both to its benefit (not forcing a widow to wear black for a year regardless of how she actually felt about her husband) and its detriment (the idea that there is a time cap on grief and that things should be "back to normal" soon enough). Evans book about his experiences as a young and truly Not to be a morbid voyeur, but I enjoy reading memoirs about grief. Grief is both deeply personal and experienced universally. I am also intrigued by how modern America has moved away from grieving rituals both to its benefit (not forcing a widow to wear black for a year regardless of how she actually felt about her husband) and its detriment (the idea that there is a time cap on grief and that things should be "back to normal" soon enough). Evans book about his experiences as a young and truly unexpected widower -- no joke, his wife was killed in a bear attack in Romania, proving once and for all that truth is stranger than fiction -- bears (no pun intended) on all those issues. However, the book, like Evans, is a bit unmoored. Evans had no children and his career in the Peace Corps left him without a permanent residence. Therefore, Evans had both the luxury and weight of having time to explore his grief -- in some ways, he had no "real life" to get back to an could indulge in a year of living with his brother-in-law. Perhaps because of this, the book sometimes lacks an organizing principle -- it's not chronological nor topical. So the book meanders in both time and meaning, which is why, although beautifully written (Evans is also a poet), I cannot give the book 4 stars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Beth Gordon

    The pain of seeing your life partner mauled by a bear has got to be awful. I'm not sure it would ever lessen to a point that you could ever look at life the same way. It's a heartbreaking read. How can I even attempt to rate a grieving widower's experience via this book? In some places, it's poetically lyrical. In others, it's repetitive or wandering. I fear that he could use this tragedy to define himself, and I hope that didn't/doesn't happen. Since her death occurred in 2007 and this book was The pain of seeing your life partner mauled by a bear has got to be awful. I'm not sure it would ever lessen to a point that you could ever look at life the same way. It's a heartbreaking read. How can I even attempt to rate a grieving widower's experience via this book? In some places, it's poetically lyrical. In others, it's repetitive or wandering. I fear that he could use this tragedy to define himself, and I hope that didn't/doesn't happen. Since her death occurred in 2007 and this book was published in 2014, it would have been great to hear an update on his life since then. I suppose I've found the process of moving on more interesting than the immediate repercussions.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Miera

    Wanted to like this one. I'll admit, I ordered this title because I secretly wanted to read another bear attack account (I have a fascination with bear attacks). The author's writing seemed very distanced from the material - flat and lacking emotion. I skimmed portions when I got bored. I know it's cruel of me to read one man's account of grief and judge its literary quality, but I didn't feel in any way emotionally connected to this book. To me, it seemed as if Evans wrote like a detached obser Wanted to like this one. I'll admit, I ordered this title because I secretly wanted to read another bear attack account (I have a fascination with bear attacks). The author's writing seemed very distanced from the material - flat and lacking emotion. I skimmed portions when I got bored. I know it's cruel of me to read one man's account of grief and judge its literary quality, but I didn't feel in any way emotionally connected to this book. To me, it seemed as if Evans wrote like a detached observer of his own life.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. After reading his excerpt on Slate (I think), I knew I had to read the full work and I ordered it immediately. Unfortunately, my expectations were for a different style of book. Though Mr. Evans is an excellent writer, I didn't realize that this would be an introspective journey through grief (which he does well.) For someone looking for that, this is the perfect read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    True Story. Award winner. Needs a good editor.

  29. 5 out of 5

    J.l.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Saviano

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