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What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past [Hardcover]

James FitzGerald
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 11 2010
A rich, unmined piece of Canadian history, an intense psychological drama, a mystery to be solved… and a hardwon escape from a family curse

Like his friends Banting and Best, Dr. John Fitzgerald was a Canadian hero. He founded Connaught Labs, saved untold lives with his vaccines and transformed the idea of public health in Canada and the world. What so darkened his reputation that his memory has been all but erased?

A sensitive, withdrawn boy is born into the gothic house of his long dead grandfather, a brilliant yet tormented pathologist of Irish blood and epic accomplishment whose memory has been mysteriously erased from public consciousness. As the boy watches his own father - also an eminent doctor - plunge into a suicidal psychosis, he intuits, as the psychiatrists do not, some unspeakable secret buried like a tumour deep in the multi-generational layers of the family unconscious. Growing into manhood, he knows in his bones that he must stalk an ancient curse before it stalks him. To set himself free, he must break the silence and put words to the page. His future lies in the past.

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Product Description


WINNER 2012 – Donald Grant Creighton Award from the Ontario Historical Society
NOMINEE 2011 Toronto Book Awards

“A brave and compelling journey into the world of mental illness, and a riveting look at the father-son divides in a family of talented overachievers. . . . FitzGerald manages to tie in important Canadian medical discoveries, two world wars, and the history of Ireland in an ambitious, yet riveting narrative. In heartfelt, lively, and meticulously researched prose, he links the personal to the political.”
—Writers’ Trust of Canada Non-Fiction Prize jury citation
“The emotional chilliness of early twentieth-century Toronto is blended with a tragic story of brilliant scientists and physicians doomed to madness, in journalist James FitzGerald’s memoir, What Disturbs Our Blood. . . . Never maudlin or melodramatic, FitzGerald’s book is a masterpiece of its genre, the chronicle of family secrets unearthed and healing attained.”
—BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction jury citation
 “A memoir of extraordinary power and candour. . . . This book is as riveting as a crime thriller. . . . Every writer has one great story to tell. This is James FitzGerald’s story.”
—Patricia Pearson, The Globe and Mail
What Disturbs Our Blood is beautifully orchestrated. . . . It’s a roaring cumulative set-piece, a pageant of hectoring souls. . . . A fascinating, multi-layered history of 20th-century medicine and . . . a passionate inquiry into a family’s tragedies. It’s a banshee of a book.”
National Post

“An ambitious book. . . . Fitzgerald accomplishes a masterful retelling of Canada’s medical history, while rehabilitating his family’s reputation and restoring his own sense of belonging and mental health. Not many books reach for and grasp so much.”
What Disturbs Our Blood certainly disturbed mine in many ways, and I thought it was magnificent. I see our country and our city with very different eyes, not to mention our national medical heroes . . . I found potent resonances on every page.” 
—David Cronenberg, film director
“A powerfully written, emotionally authentic and intellectually satisfying account of addiction and mental illness in a prominent Canadian medical family. A gripping read, due to the writerly skill and unflinching honesty of the author, and his commitment to uncovering dark secrets hidden behind blue blood respectability and high professional achievement.” 
—Gabor Maté, M.D., author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
“A remarkable narrative of striving, depression, madness, suicide, and survival in a family connected with some of Canada’s greatest twentieth-century medical achievements. It is compelling reading, difficult to put down. . . . It deserves a wide readership. When you finish the book you have learned a lot and you have been put through an emotional wringer.” 
—Michael Bliss, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

About the Author

JAMES FITZGERALD is a journalist and author whose first book, Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College, was a controversial inside look at the attitudes and mores of Canada's ruling class. Revelations of the sexual abuse of boys at the school, first published in the book, led to the charging and conviction of two former teachers and the launching of a class action lawsuit against the college in 2002. The article that sparked What Disturbs Our Blood won a National Magazine Award.

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Customer Reviews

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Moving Sept. 11 2010
What Disturbs Our Blood merits reading'and rereading. At its centre is an eloquent and deeply personal story of reclamation and transformation. The research and writing of this book have themselves been primary alchemical agents in Mr. FitzGerald's understanding and transcendence of his past and, quite literally, his walking into an altered future. It is written with unstinting fascination for the many strands of inquiry it pursues and the hard won intelligence of a unique human heart.

A family secret, the hidden suicide of his paternal grandfather, haunted FitzGerald's childhood. As he steadfastly unearthed the truth, he learned that this man who had been hardly mentioned in his family'even as his father strove to emulate him'had been a celebrated leader in the Canadian public health movement. His name was Gerry FitzGerald, of Irish heritage and immense energy, and he died in his 50's at the height of an illustrious medical career that included the founding of the world famous Connaught Laboratories and a key role in the discovery of insulin. The writer's father and Gerry's son, John, also a noteworthy medical pioneer, collapsed into a suicidal depression at the same age and never worked again.

On this scaffold, FitzGerald mounts several fascinating narratives, all with a view to fathoming his paternal heritage and unwinding his fate. He gives a sobering insider's view of growing up in the Anglo-Canadian establishment. The way things work at Upper Canada College and Forest Hill loom chillingly large.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic! July 18 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fitzgerald's honest writing has increased my gratitude for the self-sacrificing work of some of Canada's medical heroes and made me appreciative of the collateral damage that "self-sacrifice" can inflict. What Disturbs Our Blood might be a great read for medical students, who are entering a profession with a wonderful history and a high suicide rate.
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5.0 out of 5 stars enzyme Sept. 1 2010
This is an incredibly written book. James FitzGerald has written a book that is that is both a turnpager and a beautifully crafted history of his family. i highly recommend reading this book for its provoking storyline and historical signifigance.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Examined Life Becomes Worth Living Feb. 16 2014
What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son's Quest to Redeem the Past does precisely what it sets out to do: redeem history. With all that we know today about the plasticity of the brain (the center of character and personality) it is indeed quite possible to reshape the future.

History that once headed down a devastating track was re-routed, by the author, to include the heart.

It was fascinating to learn about the pre-vaccine conditions in early 20th century Toronto, catastrophe Fitzgerald's medical family proudly did much to correct. It was equally stunning to learn about what Irish immigrants were up against as they established themselves in Ontario. One of the stiff injunctions was to keep one's feelings to oneself, to silence unresolved grief as one climbed the ladder to success. But as Fitzgerald makes clear - there is no ignoring - there's only stockpiling sadness until it breaks loose to chase you down.

A page-turner that details Canadian history in such a considered way that readers understand how unresolved pain must be redeemed - or passed on to another generation to suffer.

Eleanor Cowan, author of: A History of a Pedophile's Wife: Memoir of a Canadian Teacher and Writer
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4.0 out of 5 stars His father done him wrong Nov. 6 2013
Verified Purchase
At times the author has flashes of pure poetry in his writing, but only at times. The first 100 pages were more a shopping list of historical facts but once he got into creating a story he improved considerably. The history of Toronto was very interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What Disturbs Our Blood June 17 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
WOW. This book is a keeper and one that should be read by anyone remotely interested in their family lines.
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