In Half-Life: Reflections from Jerusalem on a Broken Neck ($3.99), released today by digital publisher Byliner, Joshua Prager delivers an often agonizing, frequently comic, and always soulful account of a young man's attempt to survive a near fatal injury and recover his formerly carefree existence, only to discover that it is gone forever.
"Am I paralyzed? Am I going to die?" Those were the questions Prager asked a paramedic on May 16, 1990, after the minibus he'd been traveling in during a visit to Israel was blindsided by a runaway truck. At the start of that day, he had been an exuberant, athletic nineteen-year-old, an aspiring doctor and an all-star baseball player who loved the Yankees. A golden future seemed assured. The accident, in which Prager suffered a broken neck, instantly turned his life from "before" to "after."
Prager's determination to make a new life for himself fully bears comparison with Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, in which a man trapped in his own motionless body overcomes his limitations with a mind and heart free to travel anywhere.
But Prager is no meek paragon of sickroom virtue. He spares no one in his account-not insensitive doctors, not irritable nurses, and not himself. On a trip from the hospital to his childhood home, he struggles to crawl up the steps, despite doctors' orders to stay away from stairs. Eager to date, he must find a way to fend off the pity of potential girlfriends. And yet he is not too proud to make use of the disabled section in order to attend a sold-out Bruce Springsteen concert. To celebrate his "half-life," he wants nothing more than to play a game of catch with his father.
The columnist George Will has lauded Prager for his "exemplary journalistic sleuthing," skills that the now forty-one-year-old writer has applied to recording the highs and lows of his life so far. Rich in literary allusion and bursting with heart, Half-Life is, in the end, less about the loss of physical powers and more about the growth of a mind and an indomitable will.