Eight books, not all of them winners
Barbara Lipska (2018) The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind. [Audible]. Emma Powell (narrator).
I loved this narrator. What could have been a dry retelling of a medical anomaly became a story that readers (listeners) can connect to. The content was a fascinating look at mental illness from the inside. The author suffered damage to her brain from a number of metastasized melanoma tumors. That she survived is a wonder; metastatic melanoma is notoriously deadly. For eight weeks, however, Lipska, whose life work was researching the brain regarding schizophrenia, experienced many of the symptoms of mental illness as tumors attacked every region of her brain, most destructively, the frontal cortex. After an astounding recovery, she was able to remember her emotions and feelings in the middle of a mental breakdown that was far more terrifying to her family than to her. It’s not a long book, and is definitely worth the listen, especially for people who are touched by any form of mental illness.
Heather Morris (2019) Cilka’s Journey. [Audible]. Louise Brealey (narrator).
Very loosely based on a real person, this novel is too much “triumph of the human spirit” and too little horror of concentration camps and gulags. It is unquestionably fiction, and not of the historical variety. The good people are too good to be true and the bad people are evil. There is little nuance and even less of the horrific choices people felt compelled to make to survive.
What is accurate: Cilka did exist and she did spend time at both Auschwitz-Birkenau (1942–1945) and a Soviet gulag. She did meet her husband in the gulag. Beyond that, the story is wholesale fiction, so much so that her stepson filed a lawsuit against her (the author replaced his father with a fictional character in response) and The Auschwitz Memorial published about the book that it is “almost devoid of any value as a document.”
Madeline Miller (2012) The Song of Achilles. Ecco.