Jewish Currents Magazine


I spent a few hours this past weekend reading Your Hearts, Your Scars, a slim, potent collection of essays by the writer Adina Talve-Goodman (z”l) about the fullness and the complexities of a life lived with “two hearts in my possession: one inside, and one out.” The first is the donated heart she received at age 19; the second, the single-ventricle one she was born with, which led her to experience heart failure at age 12. “Is your suffering dear to you?” she asks herself three times in the opening essay, quoting a story from Talmud. There and elsewhere, Adina treads through questions of ableism, strength, and shame with lightness and humor. In another essay, she entertains a suitor’s suggestion that there might be something zombie-like about living in a body containing a dead stranger’s heart, admitting there were days when she “did walk about the world feeling a lot like death in drag”—but ultimately she finds the greater horror lies in being cherished for her scars.

The collection itself is unfinished—Adina died of a rare and swift cancer caused by post-transplant immunosuppressants in January of 2018, 11 years after she received the donor heart. It’s easy to lose sight of the specific gifts of this book within the many layers of her living legacy: In a postscript, Hannah Tinti, the One Story magazine editor who helped edit this collection, characterizes Adina as “a hero in colorful scarves and overalls” with “a weakness for glitter and Cher.” Adina was the managing editor of One Story, a performer and trained clown, and the daughter of two rabbis. (Her mother, Rabbi Susan Talve, is known for opening her St. Louis synagogue to BLM protesters in 2014 and 2017.) Even after the transplant, Adina held on to the heart she was born with—not, she tells a nosy doctor, because it’s “a Jewish thing to take your organs home with you,” but because she wanted to keep what was rightfully hers and maybe to find out what a “dying heart” contains. The heart was released to her “in an urn through a funeral parlor,” she recounts drily, “as my own ‘remains.’”

The essays here deal in a troubled economy of gratitude and gifts, where one person’s death becomes another person’s life. But they are populated with the seemingly lightweight details of young adulthood: makeout sessions in basements and in cars, awkward breakups, too-long conversations with strangers, encounters on late-night subway platforms. On a walk to an Iowa cemetery on the ten-year anniversary of her transplant, where she means to pray but realizes she cannot recall the words, Adina remembers that the second-century miracle worker Shimon bar Yochai is said to have lived with “one eye laughing and one eye crying.” These essays devote themselves to living in this space, refusing the ostensible weight of their subject with a bright, insistent humor.

Adina was a new friend the year we both lived in Iowa (her first and my last), warm and sharp and generous and funny. Reading these essays lent new valences to my memories of hiking with her in the woods near my house, of sharing cocktails one night at a dance party that turned out not to be dance-y enough, of burning intentions in her backyard under a new moon. I was moved by the way a voice really can stay alive in print, how encountering Adina in these pages made her briefly, vividly present. There’s a moment in one essay when she bristles at being called “pretty” by a nurse, and concludes that what the nurse must mean is that she looks “a lot like life.” It’s a phrase I want to use to describe this book, which is too brief, and incomplete, but full of life regardless.

Hadassah Magazine

Review by Sandee Brawarsky

Published in Hadassah Magazine January 2023

This short, compelling collection of personal essays gives readers a glimpse into the life of a young woman living with a transplanted heart. The daughter of two rabbis, Talve-Goodman was born with a congenital heart condition and received a transplant at age 19. In her writing, she is a sharp observer, funny, grateful and very likeable, who understands deeply that her adult life is tied to the loss of another person.

She recounts young romances, adventures as an editor in New York City, hospital visits, reactions to the scars from her surgery and ordinary encounters that take on significance. Sadly, Talve-Goodman passed away at age 31. Published posthumously, her essays will reverberate in many hearts. 

Forward Reviews

by Jaime Herndon

Published in Foward Reviews January / February 2023

Reflective and forthright, Adina Talve-Goodman’s posthumously published essay collection Your Hearts, Your Scars discusses chronic illness, the corporeal body, and the privilege of being alive.

Talve-Goodman was born with congenital heart issues, went into heart failure at the age of twelve, and was put on the transplant list at seventeen. Two years later, she received a new heart. She had eleven years of good health and no complications before being diagnosed with a rare lymphoma caused by her post-transplant immunosuppressant drugs. In her essays, she muses on disabilities, the fallibility of the human body, intimacy and vulnerability, faith, health, medicine, and love—and the intersections between these factors. Acutely aware that she is alive because someone else is not, she tries to untangle the threads of what this means while also remaining aware of how others in the transplant community cope.

Some of the essays represent separate drafts that were combined after Talve-Goodman’s death. As a rule, their prose is sharp and incisive, if occasionally overly self-aware. Talve-Goodman avoids self-pity and pandering for sympathy to relay events in matter-of-fact, wry terms. Still, despite their personal nature, the essays don’t betray much of Talve-Goodman’s personality. They are shared from a distance and seem almost wary of the impact that their words might have.

Illustrating the complex experience of organ transplantation and chronic illness, the essays of Your Hearts, Your Scars exist in the liminal spaces between health and sickness and between living and dying. They explore what it means to be alive, to have a body, and to come back from the brink of death.

Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Review

December 15, 2022

In this posthumously published essay collection, Talve-Goodman (1986-2018) openly shares the history of her body. Born with a congenital heart condition, she chronicles her medical experiences ranging from an 11-hour marathon back surgery that untethered her spinal cord to the implantation of her new heart in 2006 when she was 19. A collaborative effort “made out of love and grief,” the text, edited by the author’s sister and novelist Tinti, mixes creative nonfiction, memoir, and critical theory. In the opening essay, the author recalls a night as a 20-year-old college student when she exposed her chest to a boyfriend and admitted to having had a heart transplant just one year prior. In another impassioned story, she recounts a memorable trip to San Diego with a group of other teens with organ transplants, noting the solidarity of people with “displaced” kidneys, livers, and hearts and how the identities of their donors can become a vexing mystery. Talve-Goodman candidly reflects on her own physical self-consciousness, graphically describing squirmy biopsy procedures. After a two-year wait for a new heart and countless surgeries, she admits, “I wasn’t good at much, but I was good at waiting.” The daughter of two rabbis, the author’s pride in her Jewish heritage infuses many essays, most of which read like nimble coming-of-age diary entries. Other pieces find her trying to harmonize with the “dead person’s heart” beating rapidly in her chest (a transplant typically takes a year to “thaw and reach its capacity”) or offering panicked discourse on organ donors and their correlation to “zombies.” While crafting her essays, Talve-Goodman became unexpectedly ill and succumbed to lymphoma in 2018 at age 31. Never maudlin or overly sympathetic, the book shows how she transformed her physical limitations into an outward source of strength, and her vividly drawn essays effectively enlighten and educate.

Heartfelt and richly passionate impressions from a creative writer gone too soon.