An absorbing book
In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother’s Suicide (Hardcover)
By Nancy Rappaport, MD, Basic Books, 2009, 320 pages, $25.95
Reviewed by Lois T. Flaherty
This book is an account of the unaccountable – when the author was 4 years old her mother committed suicide. The author was the youngest of 6 children in a prominent Boston family. She and her 5 siblings were raised by her father and a series of mother figures after their mother’s death. The story of her childhood has Dickensian elements but she survived to achieve success in love and in work. This book is an account of her life-long struggle to understand her mother and come to terms with her own traumatization as a result of the cascade of events the suicide set in motion.
Of particular interest to ASAP members will be her descriptions of her adolescent experiences –– she experienced, by any definition, a turmoil-filled adolescence. Psychotherapy played an important role in her overcoming many difficulties, and her descriptions of her therapy from an adolescent’s point of view are worthwhile for any adolescent psychiatrist to read.
Rappaport left no stone unturned in fact-finding – as her mother had been prominent in Boston social circles and politics there was a lot of material available. The book has elements of biography, autobiography and investigative journalism. In a way, the city of Boston is really one of the characters in the story. The parts about Boston politics and history were fascinating.
As another Amazon reviewer, D. Kulick reported, “In Her Wake is a beautiful, powerful memoir about the process of belonging to a family, coming to know oneself, making meaning from the lives of those closest to you, and, ultimately becoming established and grounded in your own identity and life’s mission. We get to know Dr. Rappaport from the inside out, from a frightened child, bewildered and sad about the tragic loss of her mother and confused by her family’s reactions, but also a child who is resilient and is able to develop strong connections with others and see a future for herself. Others who have endured tragic events in their childhood will easily identify with Dr. Rappaport’s journey. It’s more than a memoir though, it’s a tale of hope, connection, forgiveness and learning to forge ahead and make a life of meaning even though there is an emptiness at times. Dr. Rappaport shares how she became a dedicated mother and a child psychiatrist who has dedicated her life to working with children and families affected by adversity. Her book shares how she comes to honor her mother and how her search to know her mother has made her more alive and connected in every part of her life.”
I loved it and found it very absorbing and moving. It reads like a fast-paced novel. But, in addition to the compelling story, the insights are amazing. Using the perspectives of so many different people really adds a lot. I loved the way that Rappaport interweaves her own thoughts and feelings with the narratives of interactions with her family, patients and other people.
There is a beautiful sparseness in her writing and the way in which she shifts from one topic to another is suggestive of actual thought processes, the narrative of an inner life, rather than a historical account.
The book is a good illustration of resilience, a concept that is receiving increased attention, and shows the value of narrative in coming to terms with traumatic experience. This book has already received considerable critical acclaim and I definitely recommend it. An added reason to read it — the author will be speaking at our Annual Meeting in Los Angeles in March!Read More...