White Mat­ter: A Mem­oir of Fam­i­ly and Medicine

  • From the Publisher
May 19, 2015

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.

Discussion Questions