Book Review: Memoir chronicles healing from childhood sexual abuse

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"The Long Half-Lives of Love and Trauma" by Helen Epstein, who has had a home on Plunkett Lake in Hinsdale since 1978, is a memoir of realization and liberation, bravely investigating the cause and effects of her own childhood sexual abuse.

Epstein takes the reader through her decades-long process of self-discovery, understanding and healing accomplished through a strong bond of friendship, a solid and supportive family, and the powerfully restorative effects of psychoanalysis.

A veteran journalist and author of "Children of the Holocaust," which was the first book on inter-generational transmission of trauma, Epstein yet again has written with page-turning clarity, openness and complete honesty, to share her valuable personal experience. It is written in straight-forward sequential narration, reflecting her journalistic expertise while keeping the flow of writing personal, objective, truthful and well-researched. This is a ground-breaking memoir in style and in its contribution to the issues of sexual abuse.

Epstein decided to collaborate with a longtime friend, who knew her from when she was 15, on a writing project about "how the Holocaust had affected survivors and their children in the intimate realms of sex and friendship." But when she commenced thinking about herself, she "ran into gaps and great patches of murk." Unable to rely completely on her own early memories, she thought her friend could help fill in the gaps. The outcomes of this collaboration led to hidden memories and subsequent bouts with clinical dissociation and troubling dreams, some in a waking state.

Epstein then sought help through psychoanalysis, for the second time in her life, to untangle her memory, all the while maintaining a dialogue with her friend that would lead to other interviews with family friends, research and remarkable breakthroughs in her own memory of unconscious trauma. How early childhood trauma can be hidden away, especially to the abused, through well-documented psychological defenses, such as dissociation and blank slates in memory, characterize Epstein's brave and relentless account of her journey in searching for the truth. Her innovative immersion in psychoanalysis is fascinatingly retold in all its astonishing twists and turns.

The memoir reveals the intensity of her work in sounding the depths of her trauma. but it is written in the steadiest and surest hand of an accomplished journalist's reassuring accuracy. Her detailed and masterful storytelling sweeps you away from the beginning and carries you along in what is an absorbing adventure, gripping and compelling to the core. It is gratifying for the reader to know how successful and rewarding this work was for the author, but it also presents a work of literature that will most assuredly help and support those who may have experienced or think they experienced childhood sexual abuse.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox, Mass. He welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com.


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