University of Chicago Magazine's Reviews > Examined Lives

Examined Lives by Roberta Reb Allen
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Roberta Reb Allen, AB'66, AM'70
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From the author: "How did a vivacious, competent woman end up having a lobotomy at the hands of Walter Freeman, the man who famously botched the operation on Rosemary Kennedy, and what effect did this have on her young daughter? This is the focus of my memoir Examined Lives, which offers a no-holds barred look at mental illness. The book details the familial and societal forces that surrounded my mother’s mental illness and my own subsequent depressions. Drawing upon thousands of pages of family documents, extant medical records and additional research, I trace my mother’s path from 1930s Chicago, where she devoured the nightlife and rose from serving at a Walgreen’s drugstore to room captain at the Camellia House of the Drake Hotel, frequented by the likes of Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, to her undergoing a lobotomy in 1950 and subsequently being institutionalized. In the process, I also examine the lives and personalities of those family members most involved in decisions affecting her and my lives and the social milieu in which those decisions were made. The book continues with my mother’s release from the institution, the impact the lobotomy had on the remainder of her life, and the growing strained relations with my father and stepmother that ultimately led to my independence. In dealing with our troubled lives my mother and I both had help from people with very clear sighted kindness and their roles are described. The final chapter takes the major figures in the book to their deaths. The epilogue looks at my journey, intertwined with that of my mother’s life, and what I learned about myself and the importance of self-examination and having the right people at one’s side."
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 24, 2018 – Shelved as: college
August 24, 2018 – Shelved
August 24, 2018 – Shelved as: ssd

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