Lit & Lectures » Lit Critic's Choice

Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas

The two discuss their new memoir, Life, on the Line

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It must be tough to tell your own story when loads of talented writers have already told it. But that's the task Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas took on in their new joint memoir, Life, on the Line (Gotham Books). Achatz was already an acclaimed chef, and Alinea—the restaurant he owns with Kokonas—had been deemed one of the best in the U.S. when he was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer in 2007. Advised by several doctors that they'd have to cut out his tongue to save his life, Achatz underwent an experimental radiation treatment that caused horrible burns and temporarily cost him his sense of taste, but left the tongue intact and cured him. The story is compelling enough to overcome the authors' lifeless prose, but, as I read, it was hard to ignore the fact that I'd already seen a better version in the New Yorker. Still, Achatz's character comes across here in ways that it doesn't in other accounts. It's not always a pretty picture—he's motivated almost to the point of obsession, seems extremely reluctant to express emotion (so much so that even the most fraught scenes tend to fall flat), and depicts himself as a demanding, even unreasonable boss and partner. But the sometimes inadvertent intimacy of the book makes it worthwhile. Achatz and Kokonas discuss and sign Life, on the Line at this event.  Thu 3/3, 6 PM, Harold Washington Library Center, auditorium, 400 S. State, 312-747-4050, chipublib.org. —Julia Thiel

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