Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Review: Denial

Denial: A Memoir of Terror

Jessica Stern
Publisher: Ecco (June 22, 2010)

I was asked to review Denial: A Memoir of Terror by the staff of its author, and I am glad I had the opportunity to do so. The author of this book is an expert on terrorism and a national security advisor. In Denial she relates her experience that when she was 15, she and her sister, a year younger, were forcibly raped in their home at gunpoint by an unknown intruder. Years later when the police reopened the case in 2006, Stern was compelled to confront the devastating experience and research the rapist’s background. In the course of doing so, she learned more about her family and herself.

For me, the most valuable part of this book was experiencing from the inside, through Stern’s clear writing, what the after-effects of trauma actually feel like. The various trauma experiences interact with other aspects of her family history to produce both strength and blind spots. At times the book was a bit confusing, as the narrator moves between experiences of the rape, experiences within her family, and present life. However, I came to feel that this reflected what it felt like to her: all these aspects creating confusing and inexplicable symptoms that were very hard to recognize or sort through. In reading the book you experience how assumptions about the world that are formed in trauma become unquestioned reality. These assumptions then influence ones’ actions in life such that they are confirmed again and again.

Stern describes vividly the various subtle and more obvious symptoms she developed as a result of her trauma. The reader can experience the intensity and confusion these symptoms cause.

Another strong theme of the book is the failure of the community within the family and outside it to support these two girls. It is astonishing how little help they got, how they were not believed, and how the case was allowed to go unsolved for so long. Stern demonstrates the unwillingness of the community to face the presence of evil in its midst. Years later, a policeman does develop an interest in solving the case and succeeds in doing so. But in the mean time the rapist has harmed many more girls. The function of denial for the individual, the family and the community is demonstrated clearly.

I would recommend this book. It gives us a rare opportunity to experience from the inside the complexity of multiple layers of traumatic experiences and how they affect relationships with family, friends and partners; influence job choice and performance; and infiltrate every part of life. In addition it clearly demonstrates the function and danger of denial.

1 comment:

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