Book review: Z. Alzheimer’s-A Shared Journey



Z. Alzheimer’s-A Shared Journey.

Bernard Gosschalk. 2009.
London: Jessica Kingsley.

Reviewed by Malcolm Wallis, DementiaSA

This short book is the author’s account of dementia. The ‘Z’ of the title refers to Zelda, his late wife, who died after living with dementia for many years. He also makes reference to his earlier marriage to Ruth who also predeceased him. The author seeks to give a very personal account of this highly difficult experience.

What makes the book different is that it tells a South African story. The author was born in this country but spent much of his life as an academic teaching Architecture at the University of Manchester. However, he spent a lot of time in South Africa where Zelda came from and where she died. This experience means that the book can be more meaningful to South Africans than are other accounts which lack that context. This duality of national experiences has other benefits. In particular, he is not impressed by the performance of the UK National Health Service and other organs of state; he is able to narrate in some detail the bureaucratic morass he encountered. In South Africa, the absence of a national service opens the way for the private sector but only for those who can afford it. There are perhaps some lessons for South Africa in this book, particularly since we have been debating for ten years how best to find a more equitable and effective system through National Health Insurance. I took from my reading of this book that it is important to strive for a more user friendly system than that of the UK which, however, needs to be affordable for both the state and people living with dementia, carers and family.

The book has other merits which can be noted. One is that the story, although briefly told, is infused with Gosschalk’s experience of life in both countries. He gives fond accounts of attending concerts at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall where as a student I saw the Rolling Stones. The author’s tastes are somewhat more highbrow than that. He also has well expressed affection for the beauty of Cape Town and the pleasures of living there.

It might sound like a sad book which on one level it is but it is not gloomy: what comes through strongly is a story of lives well lived despite the tragedies the author endured.

This book is obtainable from DementiaSA. Priced at R95.00