In Spain, Albert Espinosa’s The Yellow World has turned him into a cross between Oprah Winfrey and Dale Carnegie: he is so famous that his book outsells Harry Potter and women tattoo his mantras on their backs. Part memoir, part self-help, it is the story of how, between the age of 14 and 24, Espinosa lost his leg and part of his liver to cancer.
Except it’s not really about that at all. Instead, it is 23 things cancer taught Espinosa about life — that positive thinking, for instance, overcomes the pain of chemo, and that losses can be good, such as the time Espinosa threw a farewell party for his leg, inviting along a girl he once played footsie with and a dog that almost bit it, and requesting that his guests travel “on foot”.
The Yellow World is a sunny, wildly optimistic utopia — and I’d hate to live there. After a while, Espinosa’s claims (“I was happy when I had cancer. I remember it as one of the best times of my life”, or “it makes me happy to think about those kids who died”) become so glib and obsessed with positive thinking that fear is given no space to breathe. A more insightful story might have engaged with that fear.
Instead, the best moments of this book are when Espinosa lets cancer in: his bittersweet memories, for example, of his bald-headed hospital friends sneaking to the car park to soak up the sun, or whispering to the newborns in their wards at night. They are moments infinitely more inspiring than any of the passages on self-help.