Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: Rescuing Patty Hearst

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Rescuing Patty Hearst: Growing Up Sane in a Decade Gone MadRescuing Patty Hearst: Growing Up Sane in a Decade Gone Mad by Virginia Holman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rescuing Patty Hearst is one of those books that is hard to describe in terms of why someone should want to read it. The very short summary: it's Virginia Holman's account of how her family survived her mother's mental illness--schizophrenia that didn't become symptomatic until after she had children and a husband. Holman's prologue begins as follows: "Nineteen seventy four was a bad time to go crazy." She goes on to relate the paranoia that pervaded daily life and the fear and confusion that cases like the one involving Patty Hearst and Stolkholm syndrome aroused in people. If you can't trust yourself, who's left?

Holman's mother took her two daughters to an old cottage in Kechotan, VA where she enlisted their help in preparing for the "secret war" and the arrival of the war children. Family lived nearby, but they dismissed a lot of the woman's behavior as eccentric, not psychotic. Five years later, a psychiatrist evaluated her and explained that all of the weirdness was due to her illness. Unfortunately, schizophrenia was even less well understood then than it is now, and it still isn't curable. So after the evaluation, Holman's mother was released to the care of her family complete with the nasty side effects of anti-psychotic medications.

What makes Rescuing Patty Hearst so enthralling is Virginia Holman's compassion for her mother and her family. She creates a compelling story from fragments of memory of a time when everyone in the family was trying their best to survive and take care of each other, even if some of the efforts were misguided.

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