Friday, July 17, 2009

review: annie's ghosts by steve luxenberg

In Annie’s Ghosts, Steve Luxenberg (a Washington Post journalist) tells of discovering the secret his mother kept from him and his siblings—they had an aunt who had been institutionalized at age 21. As Luxenberg searches for answers about his aunt and why his mother elected to change her entire family history, he discovers just how difficult it is to obtain records from a time when mental illness was a secret shame for families. Even after he gets legal documents giving him the authority to act as the representative of Annie’s estate, Luxenberg still has difficulty getting the information he needs. It is also a battle against time as the institutions Annie stayed at have started destroying the records since they are more than 25 years old.

This remarkable tale also delves into the interesting history of the treatment of mental illness in America. It also touches on the Depression era and World War II. Luxenberg’s journalistic skills shine through as he explores all of these subjects with a mix of objectivism and a son’s desire to discover the truth about his family. While it is still only July, I do think this will make my top five for best books of 2009; it might even make number one.

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