History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory and the Brain

Clifton Crais. Overlook, $25.95 (270p) ISBN 978-1-4683-0368-1
Venturing confidently from a family narrative into discussions of neuroscience, historian Crais (African studies, Emory) explores the devastating long-term effects of poverty, blighted education, and alcoholism in the lives of his own family. Befuddled for years by his inability to remember his early childhood spent with an unstable, drinking mother, Crais plunged into the science of what is technically called “chronic childhood amnesia,” which emerges after deep emotional scarring and trauma. Besides an instance when his mother tried to drown him in the bath as a toddler, and an attempt to take her own life when he was four, Crais was unsure what exactly happened to him as he was bounced between his neglectful mother in New Orleans in the mid-1960s, unable to care for her numerous children after a devastating divorce that left her depressed and scrambling in menial jobs, and his father, relocated to Mississippi and remarried but whose new wife did not want his kids; indeed, Crais, a social historian trained in scouring archives, traveled about the South interviewing people with one hope, he writes: “I wanted someone to finally tell me who I am.” While Crais’s descriptions of the New Orleans of his youth are evocative and specific, his spirals into physiological processes grow stilted and repetitive. Still, his arduous, painstaking recollection of memory proves deeply unsettling and packs an emotional wallop. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/14/2014
Release date: 04/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-1-4683-1017-7
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-4683-0980-5
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