Title: I Choose Elena
Author: Lucia Osborne-Crowley
Published: February 18th 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Literature & Feminist Theory
Rating: 4 stars
Aged fifteen and on track to be an Olympic gymnast, Lucia Osborne-Crowley was violently raped in Sydney on a night out, sparking a series of events that left her devastatingly ill for more than ten years of her life. Her path to healing began a decade later, when she told someone about her rape for the very first time. Lucia eventually found solace in writers like Elena Ferrante, and her work is about rediscovering vulnerability and resilience in the face of formerly unbearable trauma.
The author explores what has been proved, but is not yet widely known, about how trauma affects the body, bringing to our attention its cyclical, intergenerational nature; how trauma intersects with deeply held beliefs about the credibility of women; and how trauma is played out again and again in the fabric of our cultures, governments, judicial systems and relationships.
‘We wilt under the predatory gaze of men who turn us into objects for public consumption. We become so conspicuous in this light that we start to think it is all we are. In this light, we wish to be invisible. In this light, we dream we will disappear.’
These are the powerful, but devastating words spoken by Lucia Osborne-Crowley in her literary essay, I Choose Elena. Published by Allen and Unwin in February, this brave and searing memoir style piece, looks closely at the cycle of trauma. Informative, reflective and honest, I Choose Elena is a timely book, that calls for greater recognition of the lasting effects of trauma.
Journalist Lucia Osborne-Crowley puts all her emotional energy and professionalism as a skilled researcher into her critical personal essay, titled I Choose Elena. Charting her early life as a top level gymnast, Lucia was on track to achieve great success in this field when she was violently attacked and raped in her teen years. Hiding from her pain, Lucia lost ten years of her life by burying the trauma of this incident away from her mind. However, the incident and resulting pain from this life defining event refused to go away, instead manifesting itself in Lucia’s battle ridden body. After years of misdiagnosis and unfair treatment from the medical profession, Lucia finally received a diagnosis for her ongoing pain. Following this revelation, Lucia was able to seek the correct support and guidance to set her on a path to recovery. I Choose Elena is an enlightening but desolate tale, that highlights the wide ranging effects of trauma. It also looks closely at the body’s physical ability to cope with a violent rape and it offers a seething interrogation into the construction of women’s complaints by the medical, education, government and justice systems.
I Choose Elena is a little book that really packs a punch. It hits where is hurts, and it examines issues of the utmost importance. Striking hard at the medical, healthcare, judicial, political and education system, along with society’s perceptions of violent attacks, rape, women’s health and wellbeing, Lucia Osborne-Crowley’s personal essay is a poignant meditation on trauma. I Choose Elena is underscored by a sense of urgency and bravery on behalf of the author, who bares all in this personal reflection.
Lucia’s journey opens with ‘Beginnings’, which provides the reader with an insight into her life as a teenage girl competing at Olympic level gymnastics. A horrific event occurs, which Lucia chooses to keep concealed for a number of years, which will have a devastating impact on her life. We then travel through a further six chapters, that takes us deep inside Lucia’s state of mind, her disappointing experiences, setbacks and struggles to overcome the violent attack, as well as resulting physical pain from this experience. I Choose Elena is supported by a comprehensive bibliography, which enables the reader to see that this book is not just a personal account, but it is a progressive essay, informed by a significant amount of research. Many of the facts and experiences raised by Lucia Osborne-Crowley was utterly appalling, it angered me. However, it has always been there, but this book works as a vehicle to air these issues to the public floor.
What personally upset me the most about I Choose Elena, was the way in which Lucia’s trauma was dealt with by medical and health care professionals. To be brave enough to seek medical intervention is a huge step, but the dismissal and misdiagnosis numerous times upset me. I could empathise with Lucia’s experiences in regarding her medical conditions (endometriosis and crohn’s disease). I can only begin to imagine what Lucia went through as she was violently raped as a teen and the resulting impact, which is still felt a decade later. This is a brave account from a woman that I feel exhibits a true sense of resilience, as well as survival.
I was also taken by the careful insertions of pertinent quotes from keynote writers personally selected by the author. From Roxanne Gay, Elena Ferrante, Zadie Smith and Cheryl Strayed, many of these thoughtfully selected statements, draw a great deal of meaning and support Osborne-Crowley’s text.
Drawing from her revered essay, The Lifted Brow, I Choose Elena, is a personal statement for our times. Lucia Osborne-Crowley discloses a decade filled with pain, illness, personal struggle and courage, that strikes at the heart of our very existence. I Choose Elena is an indispensable read.
I Choose Elena by Lucia Osborne-Crowley was published on 18th February 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of I Choose Elena, Lucia Osborne-Crowley, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
I Choose Elena is book #22 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge