Tag: suicide

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

October 13th, 2016 — 2:19pm

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman51mquehbm3l-_sl300_

This is a Swedish book all about a man who could be described as a “crabby old man…curmudgeon…angry…stubborn…etc..” He doesn’t seem to like new technology such as the Internet. He only buys Saab automobiles. He seems fixed in his ways. Now older people are known to gravitate towards these characteristics. (So I have been told) But wait, he really wasn’t that old. It was mentioned a few times that he was 59 years old. Maybe this is all relative or perhaps the author was fairly young when he wrote this book. (I was able to determine that he was 32 years old when the book was published)

As the book progresses, especially through various gravesite one way conversations with his deceased wife we learn about the very close relationship he had with her during their 40 years of a childless marriage in which they both seemed to be very happy. We see that beneath it all Ove is a caring person who will teach a pregnant neighbor to learn how to drive, build her a crib for her expected child, relate to a young kid next door and have some very endearing characteristics although hidden under his gruff surface. There is also a part of him that can’t find the reason to live and seemed determined to carry out a neatly organized suicide. We can even empathize with him especially when we see that he clearly believes he will be reunited with his beloved wife.

The main character did hold my interest but overall this book was not a page turner for me.. The success of this book, I believe is to the degree in which the reader relates to Ove and finds important characteristics in him with which to self-identify. In the case of women, I  imagine if they would have to recognize in him certain traits of the men that they love. I personally  could indentify  with  someone who cares more than he overtly shows it. Perhaps that is a guy thing. Then there is the issue that his wife really understood him and now that she was gone, he had to find a way to hold on to her. The book certainly did not have a complicated plot. We were not taken to exotic places or given unusual dilemmas. I could only hope that the pending movie can raise the pulse of this story.

To obtain a copy of this book, please click here 

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Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel

March 16th, 2014 — 3:11pm

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.05.26 PMThank You For Your Service by David Finkel– This is a nonfiction account, which reads more like a novel, of the story what happens to the soldiers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan after being mentally injured in combat. The author David Finkel previously wrote a well-received book, The Good Soldier, about his observations as an embedded war correspondent. Now he closely follows a group of soldiers most of whom know each other as they came home to their families, some with physical injuries but all with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He writes in the third person and there is no trace of the author’s actual presence although it is like he is a fly on the wall, reporting dialogue in their homes, bedrooms, etc. and in the various treatment programs, which attempt to rehabilitate them. The book takes us back to their combat experiences in foreign countries as well as to their battles with their spouses and with their demons. This is a close up view that can get you inside the head of these men and their spouses. It is as if you were the trusted therapist who was being told all. In fact, clinicians in training or those wanting to get experience with this population of people, psychologically impaired by war would certainly benefit by reading this book. There was clear insight into the thinking of all the subjects but there was no simple answer how to treat them or how they can live with the sequelae of this war experience.

The known connection between TBI ((Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD is repeatedly demonstrated although it is not invariable. The soldiers bring back tremendous guilt for what they have seen and done which is not easily alleviated by a rational analysis. Seeing buddies maimed and violently killed in a split second, no matter how conscientiously they tried to hold their fellow soldier’s body together while waiting for a medic or intellectually knowing they had no realistic way to avoid these events does very little to mitigate their guilt. One soldier was faced with an enemy firing a deadly weapon at him while holding a 3-year-old child in his arms. It was a self-preservation act to fire his own weapon and kill his enemy and the child but nevertheless the guilt continues to haunt him. It should not be surprising that the families of the wounded warriors also experience emotional damage. This pain is not only psychological but also physical in the form of what at times is severe domestic violence. There is also the suggestion that the participants in today’s volunteer army may be more likely to have had some emotional instability prior to enlisting. There are no statistics given to support this nor does this diminish the responsibility that we have to the all the heroes whom we meet in this book.

The undercurrent of this book is the subject of suicide. Such thoughts lurk in a large number of these injured soldiers and there are numerous examples of serious contemplations to end their own life with some cases where they carried out this deed. I well remember following the rising statistics several years ago as the number of suicides among active duty soldiers and veterans gradually increased until they were more than the civilian population and then ultimately exceeded the number of combat deaths. This book illustrates the stories behind these numbers by not only recounting the suicidal thoughts and near acting out of them by some of the subjects of the book but also by describing a special conference call held on a daily basis. This was the meeting run by a high ranking General linked to military bases around the world during which every suicide committed by a soldier was reviewed. At one point this was more than 22/day. The goal was the valiant but obviously unsuccessful effort to extract suicide prevention measures from this deadly experience to significantly eliminate this deadly situation.. Although not mentioned in this book, this was during a time that many people including this writer were advocating that families of soldiers who suicide should receive an official letter of condolence by the US President which is done for every fallen soldier and which was not happening at that time.

I came away  away from this book hoping that the emotional toll that warriors of war will pay be factored in along with the loss of life and limb, when anyone on this planet contemplates actions that will lead to armed hostilities.

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A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins

December 21st, 2012 — 12:57am

A Working Theory of Love by  Scott HutchinsA Working Theory of Love

This first time novelist chose to bring his readers into the world of modern day computers where there is a race to make the first computer that can actually think like a human being. There is actually something called the Turing Test  named after one of the first computer geniuses Alan Turing, who was a British mathematician who broke the German Enigma Code during WW II. Turing  committed suicide after being prosecuted by the British government for being a homosexual. The Turing Test which is a key part of this novel is where a human being and computer are blindly  evaluated  by a human judge as to whether he/she believes they are human. If the responses of the computer are judged to be the human being more than 30% of the time, the computer is deemed to have achieved thinking like a human.

The voice of the book is Neill Bassett Jr., a man in his 30s who is hired to work for a start up company that is buiding such a machine which they hope will win the Turing Test competition. Bassett’s main qualifications to be hired is that his father the late Dr. Neill Bassett kept an extensive dairy of  his personal thoughts for many years and that material is being fed into the computer to give it human experience. Dr. Bassett unfortunately ended his life by an unexpected suicide and one of the dilemmas that scientists building the computer face is whether to tell the computer about this event.

Obviously to  ultimately think like a human, there would have to be input about various human qualities including greed, jealousy and of course love. The people working on this project find materials to add this element to the computer program. This also includes understanding sexuality. The young Bassett who basically narrates this book goes into detail with his own struggles particularly about his short lived marriage, his sexual affairs and  a special relationship with a younger woman in her early 20s. During his work day part of his job is to have conversations with “ his father “ and he eventually tells Dr. Bassett (the computer) that he is his son. He also  invites his mother to his work place  one day  in order to have a conversation with her deceased husband.

It appeared to be the author’s purpose to examine the meaning of love and relationships which is quite a task even for an experienced novelist let alone a first time author. I am not quite sure he achieved some great insights but  he chose a unique premise to try to do so.

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Vienna Triangle by Brenda Webster

October 15th, 2010 — 6:03am

Vienna TriangleVienna Triangle by Brenda Webster – Published by Wings Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2009

I originally wrote this book review for Academy Forum which is published by the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry. I also subsequently published it in my blog PsychiatryTalk.com accompanied by a Q&A with the author which is also included here .

Vienna Triangle Helene DeutschThe year is 1968. Helene Deutsch is 84 and, while vacationing in Provincetown, Massachusetts, meets Kate, a young woman who, by coincidence, is writing her PhD thesis at Columbia University about the early women analysts. Dr. Deutsch is one of the most prominent, well-known and respected early women psychoanalysts and who had been in analysis with Sigmund Freud himself. One thing leads to another and in the course of their now mentoring relationship Kate uncovers some previously hidden documents belonging to her mother and which shed light on a family secret that her mother had withheld from her. This secret was that her maternal grandfather was the well-known psychoanalyst Victor Tausk who had been part of Freud’s inner circle and who had committed suicide.

Kate becomes obsessed with trying to unearth the details of her grandfather’s life and to find out why he killed himself. Dr. Deutsch who knew Dr. Tausk and even briefly analyzed him, reflects on distant memories and begins to bring forth pieces of the puzzle. These details involve Tausk, Freud and the beautiful Lou Andreas-Salome. Kate also stumbles upon information that leads her to meet her two previously unknown uncles, sons of the late Dr. Tausk.

Vienna Triangle Sigmund FreudAuthor Brenda Webster uses this plot in her novel to explore and describe life in Vienna and the complicated interactions both inside and outside of Freud’s Inner Circle during the birth of psychoanalysis. The personalities of the cast of characters unfold. Freud the creator, the father figure, is portrayed as extremely protective of his newly developed “baby.” Tausk is described as a brilliant young man who is making important contributions to psychoanalysis but who feels he is not quite appreciated by the Master. He develops a love affair with Salome who at the same time has become one of Freud’s favorite pupils. Young Helene Deutsch is making her own contributions about psychoanalytic theory and women at the same time that she is having her own love affairs. Freud does not grant Tausk’s request to be analyzed by him and instead refers him for analysis to Deutsch. There is a question about whether Freud’s harsh and rejecting treatment of Tausk contributed to his decision to take his life. Documents that purport to show Freud’s reaction to his junior colleague’s suicide do not paint a flattering picture of the leader of the psychoanalytic movement.

Vienna Triangle Victor TauskThe characters in this book are interesting and well developed. There is love, romance, jealousy, rivalry, narcissism, loyalty, rejection, dedication to the cause, and the mysterious suicide of Tausk that contribute to making this a fine novel. It is a page-turner (or in my case a button pusher – I read books on the Kindle). This book should have strong appeal to all students of psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory. It is well known that to fully grasp all of these ideas you need to go back to the streets of Vienna and the lives of the people who were bringing forth this revolutionary new understanding of human behavior.

However there may be a problem with this book. It is a novel. It is fiction. If you are thinking of reading it to understand the intricacies and nuances of the relationships that existed in Freud’s inner circle, shouldn’t you really be in the non-fiction aisle of your library, bookstore, or frame of mind (if you are buying online).

Brenda Webster states the following in her authors note at the beginning of the book: “This is a work of fiction, not of history; nevertheless it is based on the lives and relationships of real people: Viktor Tausk, Sigmund Freud, Lou Andreas-Salome and Helene Deutsch. I have attempted not to violate the known facts, but have invented diaries, dialogs and secondary characters in order to bring the actors, their ideas and passions to full imaginative life.” This is an ambivalent statement. She says that it does not violate the known facts and yet all sorts of things have been invented.

VIenna Triangle Lou Andreas SalomeIn the author’s afterword she further elaborates that an important letter mentioned in the book from Freud to Andreas-Salome after Tausk’s suicide is genuine, as are her responses to it. (This is one of the documents to which I referred to above.) Webster also cites Kurt Eissler’s writings that she says defended Freud’s treatment of Tausk. This suggests that she made efforts to found the main premise of the book on as much fact as possible.

My advice to potential readers is as follows: If you have been around the block and studied the history of psychoanalysis to the point where you are satisfied with what you know, or if you don’t really care about who said what or who was jealous of whom etc., then consider reading this enjoyable and interesting novel. It is fun thinking about these people even if many of the facts, attributions and nuances may not be correct. However, if you are a new student of psychoanalytic theory and want to learn more about these historical figures and how they interacted while coming forth with these ideas, hold off reading this novel. I suggest instead, that you read some of the many historical accounts, biographies and diaries, which are available about this period of time and these important people. Ask your teachers and mentors for suggestions, in particular about areas of your interest. By the time the movie comes around of this intriguing plot, if they ever decide to make one, you will be ready for this version of the story.

The following is a Q&A with the author Ms. Brenda Webster

MB: What attracted your interest to these characters and the birth of the psychoanalytic movement?

Vienna Triangle Brenda WebsterBW: I had written two previous books of psychoanalytic criticism and a memoir chronicling my history in therapy and had no intention of doing more. Then one day I was reading about how the great Goethe sucked the life out of people close to him and used them for his own purposes. This made me think of Freud and Viktor Tausk. I wondered if genius couldn’t tolerate the existence of great talent in its vicinity and I was off and running.

MB: On one hand you emphasize in the author’s notes at the beginning of the book, that this is a work of fiction, not history, but on the other hand you note that you have attempted not to violate the known facts. Is the story your best guess as to what was the nature of the relationships which you wrote about or is it rather an attempt to write a fanciful interesting novel ?

BW: As I researched my story—and I read everything I could get my hands on from background material to biographies of Deutsch, Lou Salome, Tausk and Freud—I came to feel that Freud played an important role in Tausk’s suicide.and subsequent cover up. I had no impulse to write a polemical book. (My analyst Kurt Eissler had written two books defending Freud) I wanted to explore what happened, to re-create the people and the situations to decide for myself what motivated them. Fiction was from the beginning a way of gaining imaginative insight.

MB: In the story, you show Freud as using Tausk’s ideas without crediting him . As a writer yourself, do you view this as a particularly immoral act or do you believe that things like this can happen without malicious intent?

BW: I think that writers often borrow from each other but in the case of Freud and Tausk there was so much emotional freight behind the borrowing. Each man accusing the other of not giving credit that it took on a more sinister coloring.

MB: Can you picture this book as a movie and would you like to share your ideas as to which actors and actresses might best capture the spirit of your story ?

BW: Yes, I can picture it as a movie. The first thing the Freud scholar Paul Roazen said when he read my early draft was that it would make a terrific movie. I don’t keep up with contemporary actors but I think someone like Helen Bonam Carter would be good for Lou. Both sexy and super intellectual.

MB: Where will you be taking your readers in your next book?

BW: I am working on a play with a New York Producer/director that carries on my interest in Freud and his circle. So far it has been an exciting experience

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