More than four hundred abandoned suitcases filled with patients’ belongings were found when Willard Psychiatric Center closed in 1995 after 125 years of operation. They are skillfully examined here and compared to the written record to create a moving—and devastating—group portrait of twentieth-century American psychiatric care.
©2008 Darby Penney and Peter Stastny (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
The Lives They Left Behind is a deeply moving testament to the human side of mental illness, and of the narrow margin which so often separates the sane from the mad. It is a remarkable portrait, too, of the life of a psychiatric asylum--the sort of community in which, for better and for worse, hundreds of thousands of people lived out their lives. Darby Penney and Peter Stastny's careful historical (almost archaeological) and biographical reconstructions give us unique insight into these lives which would otherwise be lost and, indeed, unimaginable to the rest of us.” (Oliver Sacks, M.D., Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, Columbia University Artist, and author of Musicophilia)
“The haunting thing about the suitcase owners is that it’s so easy to identify with them.” (Newsweek)
“In their poignant detail the items helped rescue these individuals from the dark sprawl of anonymity.” (The New York Times)
“[The authors] spent 10 years piecing together…the lives these patients lived before they were nightmarishly stripped of their identities.” (Newsday)
Since I was truly curious about the subject of the history of mental health institutionsI found the listen to be time well spent. The authors were documenting many facts and, for most of the book,leaving the listener to sift through what they heard and draw their own conclusions. The narrator stayed even and true to the text. The detective style of narration interjected an ominous truth to the book. (sometimes the lists of what was found in a suitcase mayhave become tedious to listen to, but the point was well made, and with Mr. Paul's voice would send a shiver).
Being non-fiction, this book was not a "story" per se. The facts were eerie. The points made by the writing of this book revealed the intense need for changes in the mental health care systems, and the fact that not enough changes have yet occurred remain.
I liked Mr. Paul's narration. Serious, consistent.- not getting in the way of the text revealing what the authors were wanting to reveal.
I was interested in the topic, and was left feeling saddened that this treatment mirrors patients' experiences to this day. I was propelled forward through the stories of individuals and the common reaction I had, was that of anger.
I found the book very slow moving and the narrators voice was very slow as well...I found I could not hold my concentration on what the narrator was saying.
The characters were definitely differentiated by each chapter.
No i do not think this book needs a follow up at all...Not sure what it would say.
"Not suitable as an audiobook"
I would recommend the book, but not the audiobook. The book is a compassionate history of Willard psychiatric hospital "inmates" in the early 20th century based on what the researchers found in the suitcases the patients left behind. I knew there were several pictures in the book which couldn't be included in the audiobook but I didn't anticipate how tedious it would be to listen to all the files being read out.
It is saddening and infuriating at the same time to listen to all the individuall stories ultimately being reduced to one single narrative: in a mental institution like Willard, the individual stories, skills and personalities of the patients didn't (don't) count. I love how the authors did not only re-iterate the facts they found out about the patients but also put them in a wider context, detailing the history of mental health treatment and its current status.
The performance was okay, Alex Paul is a good reader and has a pleasant voice. His performance wasn't outstanding in any way but the material didn't lend itself to show off the skill of the narrator.
In a way it was, because the book is so moving, but I still wish I had bought the paperback instead of the audiobook.
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