White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine


Product Details

$18.95  $17.62
Hawthorne Books
Publish Date
5.63 X 0.56 X 9.0 inches | 0.6 pounds
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About the Author

Janet Sternburg is a writer of memoir, essays, poetry and plays, as well as a fine-art photographer. She lives and works in Los Angeles and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Her books include the memoir Phantom Limb (University of Nebraska Press, American Lives series 2002, pb 2003) and Optic Nerve: Photopoems (Red Hen Press, 2005). She has commissioned and edited the classic two volumes of The Writer on Her Work described as "groundbreaking . . a landmark" by Poets and Writers (W.W. Norton, 1980; Volume 2, 1991, Twentieth anniversary edition, 2000). Her essays have appeared in many journals and anthologies ranging from The Prairie Schooner Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Literature to two cover stories for O at Home: "Oprah's Private Library," and "Oprah's Secret Garden." (2008) Currently she is a regular contributor to the cultural journal Times Quotidian, writing on the interplay between photography and writing, and writing a third memoir, Gypsy Curiosa, the name of a rose whose colors intensify as it ages.


White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine
The Big Indie Books of Fall 2015, by Judith Rosen, Publishers Weekly

This is a unique book. The writing is beautiful, the observations refined, the subject gripping.
ANTONIO DAMASIO, Author of Descartes' Error and Self Comes to Mind

White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine is a stunning achievement, attempting nothing less than to understand the impossible. Sternburg is a master at creating the perfect structuring metaphor through which to tell her family's history and by which to illuminate a particularly dark time in our nation's history. The work of White Matter is to find resolution to the dilemma of lives gone awry, despite the best of intentions. Ultimately the book's wisdom is its graceful depiction of wholeness within loss, the strength Sternburg found to escape her past, and then to return with questions only she could ask. Her answers matter to all of us.
LADETTE RANDOLPH, Author of Leaving the Pink House and A Sandhills Ballad and Editor-in-chief of Ploughshares

Janet Sternburg's White Matter--which intertwines the story of two lobotomized relatives, the history of lobotomy itself, and the author's own coming of age/ coming to writing--demonstrates that sometimes telling it slant needs to give way to telling it straight. As Sternburg grapples thoroughly with her unnerving subject, her antennae admirably stay out for that which makes us human, how we serve and fail each other, what enables both love and grace.
MAGGIE NELSON, Author of The Argonauts

White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine is Sternburg's tale of what she discovered, put in the context of her family's history, the currents of 20th-century psychiatry, the fallibilities of the medical profession and the painful decisions that many of us make.
NANCY SZOKAN, The Washington Post

And while lobotomization is now a discredited procedure, her discoveries were somewhat complicated: "When I began this investigation, I assumed that lobotomies produced only zombie-like people. But I've learned since that they sometimes provided genuine relief to people who, to my surprise, were able to say how much better they were."

Over the last several years, writers as different as the late David Foster Wallace in Consider the Lobster and Leslie Jamison in The Empathy Exams have expanded the boundaries of the essay and memoir. Sternburg in Phantom Limb and now with White Matter is part of this vanguard.
Forbes Magazine

The author also touches on other well-known individuals whose family members had lobotomies, such as Allen Ginsberg's mother and Rosemary Kennedy. A vivid and melancholy exploration into the mental illnesses that affected one woman's family and the radical and damaging operations performed to counteract these ailments.
Kirkus Reviews

Most of us love a good mystery. Add intergenerational secrets to the mix and you've just upped the grip quotient. Add to that a medical procedure that's the stuff of nightmares and horror movies, and you've got a potential hit. Janet Sternburg's memoir White Matter (Hawthorne Books, 2014) takes this recipe and adds a layer of truth.
BASYA LAYE, Jewish Independent

Just because [White Matter is] one that probably won't make the cut at the neighborhood book club doesn't mean you can't find the time to read it.
Michaela Bancud, Portland Tribune

A beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking new book...White Matter isn't a conventional hybrid memoir in which a personal story and its larger context appear in alternating chapters, or in paragraphs separated by space breaks. The subtitle of Sternburg's book, "A Memoir of Family and Medicine," signals that the story of Sternburg's family is inextricable from the story of lobotomy.

Neuroscientists believe that walking, like meditation, yoga, and, yes, writing can actually restore connection and balance between the frontal cortex and the midbrain, between perception and reaction, thinking and feeling. In other words, these activities reinforce the same neural pathways severed in a lobotomy.

Don't the best memoirs do the same? Reconnect feeling and language, experience and expression; bridge the space, as Sternburg writes, in this lovely, healing book, "between a memory and a story?"
Suzanne Koven, Los Angeles Review of Books

In its best moments, this book raises questions about the uncertain contours of compassion...Sternburg is at her most astute when she can hold sometimes contradictory truths in mind...
Meehan Crist, Los Angeles TimesI loved the struggle of this book, and Sternburg writes it beautifully: the wrestling with that which has no answer, or at least an answer which won't sit still.
DENISE WILKINSON, Riverteeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative

White Matter builds with the suspense and gathering unease of a horror story. [There is] a poignant honesty and vulnerability to the narrating voice, as well as a sense of urgency. White Matter shines when creating what Sternburg finds lacking in medical culture: " fellow-feeling - a link with another person, a baseline recognition that all of us are in this together, as well as a particularized recognition of the situation of another."
KATHERINE HAYES, Women's Review of Books