Half a Life (memoir)

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Half a Life
Author Darin Strauss
Country United States
Language English
Genre Memoir
Published August 2010 McSweeney's/Random House
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 224
Awards National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography
ISBN 0-8129-8253-3

Half a Life is a book by American author Darin Strauss. It received the National Book Critics Circle Award for memoir in 2011.


Strauss, a novelist, recounts how his life was profoundly altered when a car he was driving struck and killed a fellow high school student.


Strauss's memoir grew out of a 2008 This American Life episode entitled "Life After Death," in which the author addressed the effects of a high school traffic accident: a classmate on a bicycle swerved in front of his car, which struck and killed her.[1] Although it was determined Strauss could in no way have avoided the accident, the book details his attempts, over half his life, to come to terms with his feelings of responsibility.[2]


Half a Life was enthusiastically received by critics here and abroad. Writing in The Guardian,[3] writer and critic Robert McCrum called the book "a masterpiece....'Half my life ago, I killed a girl'. You'll rarely get a better first line. What follows—Strauss's precise, honest and rigorous account of a fateful road accident and its harrowing aftermath—fulfills every hope aroused in the casual reader. What starts as an 18-year-old's carefree outing in his father's car leads to the death of Celine Zilke, a classmate, followed by a court case (this is America). Simultaneously, however, there is redemption. Crystal, and with many facets, Half a Life deserves celebration." In the Chicago Tribune, critic Elizabeth Taylor called it "a book that inspires admiration, sentence by sentence...This is memoir in its finest form."[4] Writer Dani Shapiro, in The New York Times Book Review,[5] found the memoir "elegant, painful, stunningly honest." She continued, "At the center of this memoir thrums a question fundamental to what it means to be human: What do we do with what we’ve been given?" A critical favorite in the UK, Half a Life was called "one of the best books I have ever read" by Ali Catterall on The BBC,[6] as well as "precise, elegantly written, fresh, wise, and very sad ... indicative not only of a very talented writer, but of a proper human being” by Nick Hornby[7]

Half a Life was widely excerpted in venues such as GQ, This American Life, United Kingdom papers The Times and Daily Mail.


Half a Life received the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography.[8]


  1. ^ "This American Life #359". July 18, 2008. 
  2. ^ Allison Gaudet Yarrow, "The Ever After: A Profile of Darin Strauss," Poets & Writers, September, 2010.
  3. ^ McCrum, Robert (March 19, 2011). "To cut a long story short, brevity is best". The Guardian. London. 
  4. ^ Elizabeth Taylor, "Half a Life," Chicago Tribune, October 19, 2010.
  5. ^ Dani Shapiro, "Atonement," The New York Times Book Review, September 10, 2010.
  6. ^ "Tuesday Book Club". February 18, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Book Column, Believer Magazine". December 2010. 
  8. ^ Julie Bosman, "‘Visit From Goon Squad’ Wins Critics Award," The New York Times, March 11, 2010. ("Darin Strauss was awarded the prize for autobiography for 'Half a Life,' McSweeney’s, which centers on a car accident the author was in that killed a classmate.")

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