Judith Barrington, now a resident of Portland, Oregon, is a poet, editor, and founder of Flight of the Mind Writing Workshops. However, when she was nineteen, her life was in tumult. She had just moved to London to work for the British Broadcasting Corporation. On Christmas Eve she was abruptly orphaned when her parents were trapped aboard a Greek cruise ship that sank off the coast of Africa. Then, in the midst of a doomed relationship with another woman, she was offered a seasonal job as an interpreter and tour guide for a winery in northern Spain. She took the job.

Underlying this account of youthful adventure in a foreign land, interspersed with earlier memories of an English childhood, are the writer's repressed anger and grief. She had learned by example to feel nothing: her mother's reaction to the death of a favorite horse had been to change the subject. Barrington and her older siblings did the same. No one seemed to realize how traumatized she was.

In a narrative that shifts easily between past and present, Barrington remembers Spain and its caring people with genuine affection. She would drive her mother's green convertible recklessly from hotel to cafe to beach, behaving as a young Spanish woman would never dare—running wild with young men, drinking too much, staying out till all hours. Her use of sensory detail here is particularly vivid: the voluptuous caress of water, the drowsiness of a heated beach, the texture of deep-fried calamares.

Lifesaving: A Memoir is a chronicle of healing, as Barrington learned to forgive her lost parents and herself and, by admitting her grief and love for them, save her own life.