Browse books

Cover of Holding Silvan

Monica Wesolowska

Holding Silvan

A Brief Life
  • Introduction by Erica Jong
  • nonfiction / memoir
  • ISBN 978-0-9860007-1-3

​In the opening of Holding Silvan, Monica Wesolowska gives birth to her first child, a healthy-seeming boy who is taken from her arms for “observation” when he won’t stop crying. Within days, Monica and her husband have been given the grimmest of prognoses for Silvan. They must make a choice about his life. The story that follows is not of typical maternal heroism. There is no medical miracle here. Instead, we find the strangest of hopes. In clear and unflinching prose, this startling memoir bears witness not only to a son’s brief life but to the evolution of the writer herself,  from Catholic girl yearning after sainthood to maternal struggle to give her son the best she can. The result is a page-turning testimony to the power of love. By raising ethical questions about how a death can be good in the age of modern medicine, Holding Silvan becomes a paean to what makes life itself good. Whether you have faced great loss or not, this book will change your life.


Related News

Related Blog Posts

Bus Talk: On Being a Memoirist in Public

Posted by Monica Wesolowska on 25 October 2016

Here we are, two strangers, side by side. We don’t have to talk, do we? The din of sixty prepubescent sixth graders on a field trip is enough for me. I have a book in my bag to read. And yet, as the school bus pulls from the curb, the inevitable...Forward

Interview with Monica Wesolowska By Miranda Rabuck

Posted by Miranda Rabuck on 26 June 2013

Monica Wesolowska considered herself solely a fiction writer before she gave birth to her first child, a son named Silvan. When Silvan was given the grimmest of prognoses shortly after his birth, she began chronicling their brief time together as...Forward

What we're reading, vol. 6

Posted by Liz Crain on 21 February 2012

Yet another installment of the What We’re Reading series (here’s what we were reading in July) with all sorts of novels, cookbooks, story collections and more. Please chime in if you’ve read any of these books and also let us know what good books...Forward

Praise for Holding Silvan

This book clearly deals with a dark, difficult, and important subject. I can’t imagine anyone better equipped to do full justice to such a profound human experience.

Michael Cunningham
Author of By Nightfall and The Hours

We have never needed this book more.

Erica Jong
Author of Fear of Flying

I was swept away by this book. Heartfelt, heartbreaking and brave, it takes us on a fascinating ethical journey in prose that shines with Wesolowska’s love for her son. I feel fortunate for the experience, as if I have held Silvan myself. I’ll never forget it.

Julia Scheeres
Author of Jesus Land and A Thousand Lives

A tender, poignant and courageous narrative – insightful and beautifully written.

Abraham Verghese
Author of Cutting for Stone

When I picked up this book for the first time, my heart sank. I wondered if I could even bear to read such a sad story. And yet, within moments, I couldn’t put it down. I read long into the night, unable to leave the story until I reached its at once achingly tragic and profoundly life-affirming end. That the story of the death of a child is, in fact, life-affirming is a tribute to Monica Wesolowska’s graceful prose, her unflinching eye, and most of all her indomitable spirit. This book taught me more about a mother’s love than anything I have ever read before or since.

Ayelet Waldman
Author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace

When someone writes about grief they also write about courage, since they survived to tell the story. The beauty and emotional integrity of Holding Silvan strikes me to the core. This book is brilliant.

Lidia Yuknavitch
Author of The Chronology of Water

Reader beware: Wesolowska will break your heart beautifully, and she has no intention of fixing it.

B.J. Dollars, The Los Angeles Review

Written in the present tense, the book is an achingly beautiful and honest chronicle, sure to incite mixed reactions. This isn’t a memoir aimed to comfort, but rather to reveal one family’s experience, and Wesolowska presents her story with grace…Sad, controversial and illuminating.

Kirkus Reviews

In clear and transcendent prose, Wesolowska urges gratitude for life’s gifts even in the direst of circumstances. Wesolowska’s honest, elegant prose places Holding Silvan firmly in the company of Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name and Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking.  Above all else Holding Silvan is a stunning meditation on love. “All [Silvan has] known in life is love…”

this isn't about me

Only a writer with Wesolowska’s enormous talents could render her tale with such intelligence and grace, bracing honesty and even humor. In precise, luminous prose she chronicles an unbearable loss that nonetheless was filled with the joy she felt in being her son’s mother.

Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe

Holding Silvan grabs you by the heart and won’t let go.

Lena M. Lencek, Reed Magazine

Monica Wesolowska has written a deeply moving, affecting memoir…This sensitively drawn portrait of motherhood and marriage explores the meaning of life, survival and letting go in powerful, emotive prose that transcends grief.

Kathleen Gerard, Shelf Awareness

Far from being a depressing book, Holding Silvan is one of those books you read and cry over and put down feeling that the human spirit is really indomitable

Frances Dunkelspiel, Berkeleyside

While not for the faint of heart, Holding Silvan is a life-affirming story about the power and resilience of the human heart to survive even the most heartrending, unimaginable loss.

Zoe FitzGerald Carter, The San Francisco Chronicle

This is a brutal story, beautifully told. When the only question you can answer on behalf of a beloved child is “What would be a good death?” The only rule that remains is love, and Wesolowska leaves readers with no doubt that 38 days of love can be a whole life.

Therese Nielsen, Starred Review, Library Journal

This book is unique not only in the beautiful prose in which it is written, but also in the story itself. The way she openly speaks about death is refreshing and even comforting. Holding Silvan shows that, though death is both sad and painful, it doesn’t have to be taboo, or an experience relegated to our past. And though Silvan died, I would not call this a book about death, but rather about a small and love-filled life…Holding Silvan is both a beautiful and tragic story written with talent, sincerity, and necessity.

Allie Angelo, Late Night Library

One of this year’s most beautifully written, tragic, exquisite reads.

Lou Fancher, Lamorinda Weekly

[Holding Silvan] shimmers with grace, lucid intelligence, and solace.

Lindsey Crittenden, Spirituality & Health

“The miraculous whole of the universe” may indeed be incomprehensible to the human mind, but in these pages, it is keenly felt, borne and begotten from one human generation to the next.


Wesolowska’s prose is revealing, sometimes stark, but this does not insulate her story from a general audience, an inherent risk when writing tragedy. [S]he weaves a story that is larger than one mother’s loss. She informs a necessary conversation about the value of life and, most admirably, leaves us hopeful that we can draw understanding from our darkest hours.

Jennifer Massoni Padrini, Literary Mama

Graceful and precise in tone, Wesolowska’s chronicle of the 38-day life of her severely brain-injured son, Silvan, never veers into bathos territory even during a discussion of what constitutes a “good death” for an infant. She tells this brutal story beautifully and convinces us that 38 days of love can be a lifetime.

Therese Purcell Nielsen, Library Journal Best Books 2013

Holding Silvan is an amazing read, a gift from Monica for those who find themselves at the doorstep of an infant loss or stillborn birth. It is a virtual guiding light and a tremendous healing tool…There is so much to say about this short book overflowing with emotion. I loved every page of it.

Suzette Sherman, Seven Ponds: Embracing the End of Life Experience

After finishing the book in one day, it was clear that I was wrong about the subject. It wasn’t about losing a child. It was about, quite literally, holding a baby and and being together.

Chloe Yelena Miller, Woman Writer Mother