In this concise memoir, Brazilian author-publisher Luiz Schwarcz traces the roots of his lifelong depression, looking back not just into his own past but also those of his father and grandfather in Nazi-occupied Hungary.
Schwarcz, now a grandfather himself, felt the beginnings of depression in his early teenage years. While the signs came and went — compulsive collecting, frequent overeating, sleep problems, and fits of rage—none of them alone was enough to diagnose him with bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that would come much later in life.
The author then writes of his grandfather, who pushed his nineteen-year-old son, András, out of a train that got stuck on the way to Bergen-Belsen camp. His grandfather perished, but András survived. In 1947, he went to Brazil, where Schwarcz was ultimately born.
The author met his wife in his teen years and raised a family. But the events that haunted his inner world didn’t just concern the war.
Throughout his youth and adulthood, Schwarcz felt the crushing responsibility of being an only child, bearing the emotional brunt of his parents’ tumultuous relationship: “I learned the meaning of the word guilt from a young age, as something foundational to my existence … ” His parents leaned heavily on him when they were in conflict, and they credited him with reuniting them after a period of separation. As Schwarcz notes, “ … this was my dilemma: I felt crucial to a marriage that had every reason to go wrong, and crucial to the happiness of a man I was powerless to make happy. Still a child myself, I lacked the means to understand any of this.”
Two activities pulled him out of his depression: soccer and the Jewish youth group. But even in these moments of genuine joy, he still experienced anxiety and a fear of failure.
This is a story of intergenerational pain and its reverberations in everyday life. Throughout the memoir, we see a boy, a teen, and a man fighting demons — others’ and his own. That fight is sometimes successful, sometimes not, but it’s always deeply human.
Ada Brunstein is the Head of Reference at a university press.