White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine is the heart-rending and engrossing story of a close-knit Jewish family of five sisters who had to make some devastating medical decisions in order to keep their family together. The consequences of their choices were unprecedented: two lobotomies in one family. The daughter, essayist and editor Janet Sternburg, was determined to explore how her mother and aunts could have decided this fate for siblings. Were her aunts really the good, kind people she had always thought them to be? And how does a history of mental illness affect her and the next generation?
Woven into this story are notable Jewish figures who influenced the family — among them Abraham Myerson, inventor of the first anti-depressant — and Alexandra Adler, the daughter of Alfred Adler — who pioneered the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sternburg recounts her family’s story as part of a larger one: Every generation has to make medical choices based on the knowledge of their time. What does it mean to live with those choices? In White Matter, Sternburg searches for redemptive answers.