When he started writing his newest novel, True Believersaward-winning author and public radio show host Kurt Andersen didn't think diabetes would become a part of the story the way it did. But what the Brooklyn author and longtime type 1 ended up with was just that: a book that weaves life with type 1 diabetes into the narrative in a brand new way.

As a fictitious first-person novel, the book opens a cracked window to the feelings and emotions behind living with diabetes as part of a larger plot about politics, life and changing times.

 

It's witty, full of humor, snark and sarcasm, and some specific... descriptive "adult-themed" sections. Keep in mind: it's not about diabetes, it's about "a law school dean who intends to reveal her radical 1960s past."

"I'd never seen it done like this, especially in a first-person fiction where you can really convey the personal experience of (diabetes) and get inside the character's head to tell how it really feels," the 51-year old New Yorker told us in a recent phone interview with the 'Mine. "More than anything, it was me using the 'write what you know' mantra, bringing to bear a perspective that 99% of other writers couldn't."

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Kurt is a best-selling author of novels Heyday and Turn of the Century, has written for the New Yorker, and served as a founding editor of Spy magazine, not to mention his current hosting of New York City public radio show Studio 360.

This is, however, his first time making diabetes a part of his storytelling, something he could do so eloquently based on his own experiences after being diagnosed with type 1 a quarter-century ago at age 32.

In True Believers, Kurt has written a 431-page piece of fiction that's largely a coming-of-age story about a 64-year old grandmother who grew up in the revolutionary 1960s and turned political activism into a successful legal career. Told from the first-person perspective of the main character, Karen Hollander, the story presents itself as a memoir in progress that she's writing in not-so-distant 2013 after turning down a U.S. Supreme Court nomination because of "a big, bad secret" from her past.

We get glimpses of her teen years, how she and a few close friends acted out scenes from James Bond spy movies, and how through high school and early college they reacted to the politics of the era that divided the country — all while leading up to her becoming UCLA's Law School dean and the reason she rejected being a High Court contender.

Being a former legal reporter, Bond-movie fan and committed smart-ass who happens to be living with type 1 myself, this book was right up my alley and I had a lot of fun reading it!

Throughout the narrative, readers are treated to about 30 separate mentions of type 1 diabetes, woven into the story naturally as part and parcel of the protagonist's life. To achieve this, Kurt transposed some of his own D-experiences and emotions into his main character, who was diagnosed as a teenager in 1967.

"An interesting thing about researching and writing this book was that (the main character) was diagnosed 20 years before I was, and it was a different time," Kurt told us. "I had the good fortune of living in a time of home glucose meters and strips, and all the advances in diabetes care that have happened in recent years. Doing this research was a revelation about how fortunate I am."

Kurt says he infused Karen's character with many of the emotions he felt at the time of his own diagnosis — in particular a sense of facing her own mortality and feeling as though time is short.

"I still felt young at 32, and my diagnosis hastened my growing up," he said. "I think maybe that's what she experienced, being diagnosed at 17 in a time of such revolution where the future was uncertain."

Just a few of the D-examples in the book include various names for hypoglycemia, like "slipping into the slough of despond," and a diabetes police encounter in which Karen conveys her unspoken frustration that family members try to tweak food options to be more "diabetes friendly." He also includes this scene in which Karen wonders if she's low while talking with her granddaughter:

 

"My peevishness with her is so intense that I wonder if I'm on a hypoglycemic downward slide. I keep glucose meters all over the place — bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, right here on the coffee table — so I prick my finger and squeeze out a drop: 117. Good, I'm just angry, not too low, for me meter tells me so."

 

Kurt also creates a conversation between Karen and one of her granddaughter's friends about insulin pumping, something that neither character nor author do despite having had that conversation with their doctors.

One of the most interesting examples comes when the modern-day Karen is injecting herself at a diner and catches the eye of a waitress, who reports her to local sheriff's deputies, which leads to the character getting grilled about her "suspicious activity."

That has never happened to Kurt, but he says it's something he's been curious about.

"Like her, I'm pretty brazen in my injection habits and I've always wondered if something like that might happen," he said, noting that like his character, he's open about his diabetes and doesn't hide it.

In one scene, Karen and one of her longtime friends disagree during a phone conversation and the friend suggests she is having a low. That's something Kurt specifically wrote to convey how that feels for PWDs.

"The sense of being infantilized and being treated as a kid who isn't aware of his or her emotions or state of wellness... there's nothing more annoying than that," he said.

A fascinating bit comes late in the novel when Karen is mulling her judicial nomination, and reflects on how she might fit into the current court makeup: "another female law school dean who had never been a judge," "another woman with Type 1 diabetes," "another 1970s alumnus of Yale Law School," "another New Yorker," "the seventh Roman Catholic out of nine justices."

Yes, this was a reference to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who's a type 1 PWD. What a powerful way Kurt wrote this, making the point that diabetes isn't a defining characteristic of a person, but rather just another aspect of a human, whether on the bench or being considered for the judgeship. Bravo!

Since the book came out in July, Kurt says he's heard from a number of people in the Diabetes Community, both adult type 1s and parents of children with diabetes, thanking him for writing the book the way he did. Though he's never strived to be a spokesperson for this illness, Kurt hopes his novel brings to light some of the continuous daily issues that the D-community must deal with.

"(Diabetes) is more than just referenced, it's dealt with straightforwardly," he said. "That wasn't my exact intention when I started, but it does do that. I'm proud that maybe people can feel as though a central peculiarity of their life is portrayed in this way so publicly, and it lets a wider audience know what it's like."

That it does. We too say thank you, Kurt.

{True Believers - Random House, July 2012, $14.98 on Amazon.com}

 

The DMBooks Giveaway

Once again, we're giving you the chance to win a free copy of this novel! If you'd like to win a copy of Kurt Andersen's True Believers, check out the instructions below. Entering is as easy as leaving a comment!

Here's what to do:

1. Post your comment below and include the codeword "DMBooks" somewhere in the comment (beginning, end, in parenthesis, in bold, whatever). That will let us know that you would like to be entered in the giveaway. You may post a comment without entering, but if you want to be considered to win, please remember to include "DMBooks."

2. You have until 5 p.m. PST on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012 to enter this giveaway. A valid email address is required to win.

3. The winner will be chosen using Random.org.

4. The winner will be announced on Facebook and Twitter on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, so make sure you're following us! We like to feature our winners in upcoming blog posts, too.

The giveaway is open to anyone, regardless of location. Best of luck!

 
Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.