- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Stalking Irish Madness: Searching for the Roots of My Family's Schizophreniaby Patrick Tracey
Synopses & Reviews
In this powerful, sometimes harrowing, deeply felt story, Patrick Tracey journeys to Ireland to track the origin and solve the mystery of his Irish-American family's multigenerational struggle with schizophrenia.
For most Irish Americans, a trip to Ireland is often an occasion to revisit their family's roots. But for Patrick Tracey, the lure of his ancestral home is a much more powerful need: part pilgrimage, part investigation to confront the genealogical mystery of schizophrenia-a disease that had claimed a great-great-great-grandmother, a grandmother, an uncle, and, most recently, two sisters.
As long as Tracey could remember, schizophrenia ran on his mother's side, seldom spoken of outright but impossible to ignore. Devastated by the emotional toll the disease had already taken on his family, terrified of passing it on to any children he might have, and inspired by the recent discovery of the first genetic link to schizophrenia, Tracey followed his genealogical trail from Boston to Ireland's county Roscommon, home of his oldest-known schizophrenic ancestor. In a renovated camper, Tracey crossed the Emerald Isle to investigate the country that, until the 1960s, had the world's highest rate of institutionalization for mental illness, following clues and separating fact from fiction in the legendary relationship the Irish have had with madness.
Tracey's path leads from fairy mounds and ancient caverns still shrouded in superstition to old pubs whose colorful inhabitants are a treasure trove of local lore. He visits the massive and grim asylum where his famine starved ancestors may have lived. And he interviews the Irish research team that first cracked the schizophrenic code to learn how much-and how little-we know about this often misunderstood disease.
Filled with history, science, and lore, Stalking Irish Madness is an unforgettable chronicle of one man's attempt to make sense of his family's past and to find hope for the future of schizophrenic patients.
"After describing the sudden onset of madness in one of his older sisters, followed two years later by his younger sister's, Tracey seeks to understand the legacy of schizophrenia that has haunted his family for generations, traced back to his great-great-grandmother Mary Egan, who emigrated from Ireland. His search takes him first to County Roscommon, the mythic center of Ireland, where he explores the Irish lore of fairies who, according to myth, 'capture minds from those who lose them.' Tracey then travels to Dublin to consider more scientific explanations for schizophrenia, but even Dr. Dermot Walsh, who helped link the dysbindin gene to this mental state, cannot offer anything conclusive. He concludes his travels at Gleanna-a-Galt where he finds the legendary well his mother told him about when he was a child, a well said to make the mad whole again. In a symbolic gesture — at a loss for anything else he can do — he procures two bottles of the healing water for his sisters. While Tracey finds no conclusive answers, his book helps to dispel misconceptions about schizophrenia and reveals the various attempts by experts to make sense of this mental illness. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
There is a moment in "Stalking Irish Madness" when the author, Patrick Tracey, looks at an old photo of two of his sisters, Chelle and Austine, and remarks, "There they are — a memory." Their schizophrenia is diagnosed later, at different times: Chelle catapults into a kind of psychotic exuberance — describing her breakup with Warren Beatty and her dates with Jesus — while Austine becomes nearly... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) catatonic, "pleading silently to some predatory personage for mercy." Both women are cruelly robbed of the people they once were, or once promised to be, in that photo. After watching a loved one's identity vanish, those left in the wake of severe mental illness must struggle with disturbing questions: Where has she gone? Why has she gone? Will she come back? "I can accept my mother's death," writes Tracey, "but the gone-and-not-dead are not so easily forgotten." This haunting notion inspires him to undertake investigations into both his family's long history of schizophrenia and the origins of the illness in Ireland. The first part of the book chronicles Tracey's lineage, and here the author offers astute descriptions of schizophrenia and the various ways it has taken hold of family members. But soon — sooner than the reader may like — he is journeying to Ireland to broaden his story, specifically to County Roscommon, where his ancestors are from and where, coincidentally, researchers discovered a gene linked to schizophrenia in 2002. But Tracey never pins down his ancestry or the answers he is seeking. Upon his return, he admits to being no closer to understanding the illness, but the journey has brought him closer to his sisters, both now spending their days at centers for the mentally ill. This anticlimax is the most moving testimony of the book: It makes painfully clear that both sorrow and surrender, crucially intertwined, attend efforts to bring meaning to the puzzle of mental illness. In his memoir, "Hurry Down Sunshine," Michael Greenberg also stands witness to family madness. He recalls, with extraordinary insight, the mania and later the depression that took hold of his 15-year-old daughter, Sally. Greenberg wonders how he will simultaneously grieve for — and learn to live with — his missing daughter. After being brought home by the police for "acting crazy" in the streets, she becomes suddenly violent, wrestling her father to the ground and scratching his face when he tries to keep her from leaving their New York City apartment. She is buzzing with a revelation she wants to share with the world: that we are all born geniuses but our intelligence is suppressed as we grow up. "In the most profound sense Sally and I are strangers: we have no common language," Greenberg writes. "She's gone away like the dead, leaving this false shell of herself to talk at me in an invented dialect only it can understand." A columnist for the Times Literary Supplement, Greenberg renders the details of his daughter's breakdown with lyrical precision. He ably describes the heightened sense of being that is often a component of madness — and the way it beckons to outsiders. "Sally's need to feel understood is like one's need for air," he confides and then adds: "Isn't this everyone's struggle? To recruit others to our version of reality? To persuade? To be seen for what we think we are?" Greenberg's writing is so effective that it somehow removes the sense of shock one might have about a father taking a dose of his daughter's mood stabilizers, as Greenberg does in an effort to get closer to what Sally is feeling. "I feel dizzy and far away," he writes of his reaction, "as if I am about to fall from a great height, but my feet are nailed to the edge of the precipice, so that the rush of the fall itself is indefinitely deferred." His intelligence and compassion help give a sense that his daughter is recovering even as he himself goes too far. And Sally does return. Without fanfare, she becomes herself again. "It's as if a miracle has occurred," Greenberg writes. "The miracle of normalcy, of ordinary existence." Alas, the miracle does not last, a difficult reminder, at the end of an otherwise triumphant story, of the enduring mystery of mental illness and the wretched way it can wind itself round a family. Reviewed by Nell Casey, editor of 'Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression' and 'An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Tracy deftly interweaves personal narrative with history, science, and lore in the unforgettable chronicle of one man's attempt to make sense of his family's devastating battle with mental illness and to find hope for the future of schizophrenic patients.
About the Author
Patrick Tracey, a former contributing writer for the Washington City Paper and Regardies in Washington, D.C., has also written for Ms. magazine and the Washington Post. He is the author of two nonfiction collections of biographical essays for the American Profiles series. After twenty-five years on his own twisted road, Tracey now lives with his sisters in Boston, Massachusetts.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like