The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness

Suzanne O’Sullivan. Pantheon, $27.50 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4837-1
Drawing on fascinating case studies, neurologist O’Sullivan (Its All in Your Head) delivers a razor-sharp study of illnesses that often cannot be explained in traditional medical terms. O’Sullivan highlights the deeply entwined biological, psychological, and social factors behind illnesses commonly called “mysteries.” In a refugee community in Sweden in the early 2000s, for example, hundreds of young girls fell into a deep sleep for months or sometimes years; “the social elements should never be underestimated,” O’Sullivan points out, having discovered that those affected were “unconsciously playing out a sick role that has entered the folklore of their small community.” O’Sullivan also explores widespread seizures among young women in Colombia in the 2010s, the spread of a Tourette’s-like syndrome among adolescents in New York in 2011, and large groups of people falling asleep for days in Kazakhstan in 2015. Along the way, O’Sullivan makes a convincing argument for changing how illnesses are discussed: “functional neurological disorders... have numerous triggers, only some of which are related to psychological distress. They can be a response to injury, disease, false medical beliefs, hardship, conflict, contagious anxiety.” As O’Sullivan masterfully narrates the cases, she movingly allows the subjects to tell their own stories, too. Fans of Oliver Sacks, take note. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/25/2021
Release date: 09/21/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 1 pages - 978-1-5247-4838-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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