White Elephants - A Memoir Paperback – Feb 1 2011
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Tami's mom had a mental illness, and alcohol only fueled the fire. We get our first glimpse into one of her episodes when Tami sees her mom in the living room getting beat up by the neighbor for hitting on her husband. Something she wouldn't have done had she not been drunk. But her alcoholism led to many bad decisions, including the men she allowed into their lives. Tami witnessed her mom's sexual encounters with these men on several occasions and, at the tender age of twelve, was raped by one of her mom's boyfriends, which resulted in Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. When the doctor asked how she could have a condition you couldn't get without sexual contact, her mother said, "Maybe she's just a tramp." I cried when I read this.
For the length of this honest, inspiring memoir, my heart ached for the author. I felt her pain when she read her mother's diary and found out that her mom was suicidal and wished she never had her. I wasn't surprised when she turned to alcohol and cutting herself and even attempted suicide. Her mother's abuse also led Tami to develop an ulcer at age eighteen, and later on a dangerous "coping mechanism" called anorexia. Her brother wasn't much better off either, turning to alcohol and drugs to ease his pain, even though Tami did all she could throughout their childhood to protect him. And although there are many, many tragic events that take place throughout the volume at hand, the author writes in the perfect voice for this tough subject matter, never diving into the depths of despair, which makes White Elephants a highly readable memoir.
White Elephants is a story of survival, strength, and hope. Chynna's story is a testament to the fact that you can rise above the abuse experienced in childhood and become the woman and mother you always wished for. That's what Chynna is today, and so much more. She's a true inspiration and a gifted writer with the courage to step up and tell her heartbreaking story, warts and all, to help other people who may be experiencing the same thing in their lives. I know it's helped me. And I have to say one thing: even though there may have been an elephant in the room that no one seemed to notice, Chynna did all she could as a young lady. It was a different era and therapy wasn't as common as it is today. Now, we have resources. So if you know someone who is suffering, speak up and find help.
I recommend White Elephants to anyone who has experienced alcoholism, mental illness or abuse in the family. You will find comfort and inspiration in this memoir, knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
A perfect story that reminds us we all have the capability to 'rise above our raising' and thrive, as in the end we see Chynna morph into the family woman she always desired within her own mother.
I recommend this memoir to anyone that needs to find their way too.
As I said, I could not put this book down. Reading the excruciating agony of a child, who felt "trapped and hopeless" was heart wrenching!! Knowing and wanting to help her mother, a child with adult thoughts of "fixing" her mother but not knowing how, riveting!! A story that consumed, captivated, and had me feeling an array of emotions, that at times were overwhelming. As a parent myself, I found myself agonizing for this child. And I also found myself to be so angry with the parent, at times even detesting, but then also realizing that she was a very troubled woman with untreated diseases. As distressing as this story was, it was also inspirational. It was about this battered child, who had lived through in surmountable times but prevailed to become a forgiving, sympathetic, loving adult. A spell binding read!! Poignant and profound!!! Off the chart read!! Touching!! I definitely recommend this book, it will stay with you for many years to come!!!
My Rating: 5+
I guess the one thing I really got out of it, is that when there is a White Elephant in the room, have the courage to speak out and make a change. If you are too young to make the change yourself, find an adult who will do it for you.
I'm a very critical reader who doesn't often give books a full 5 stars, it needs to be a true work of art for me to rate it at that level. This book has accomplished that. It's hauntingly beautiful and one that will stay with you long after you read it.
What impacted me most about this memoir is the message of remembering her mother as a person- not a disease. All too often it's easy to forget that. The manic highs and lows start to overshadow the person until they slowly fade away into memories of crazed antics, impossible situations, and irrational thinking.
Her analogy of White Elephants and the descriptions going along with them is absolutely perfect, they are brought through the entire novel with great on clarity why they are there and what they represent for that exact moment in time. Throughout the book there are quotes from multiple sources going along with each chapter. These quotes fit the entire book and each chapter exceptionally well. They were entirely relevant and did not disrupt the flow of the novel at all, instead they added to it greatly.
I also enjoyed how fast paced Laird writes when it comes to telling her story. She doesn't bother with small, complicated details that won't mean anything as the reader progresses-instead she focuses on the meat of what she's writing and allows the reader to envision the environment fully with the important details provided. While reading this memoir I never once felt "stuck" in one place like it was dragging on to long or what I was reading wasn't relevant to the story in any way whatsoever.
The Author also covered many different points of view from her family in the novel, all through her own viewpoint in conversations and events, giving wonderful insight into the roles of extended family members who aid in the issue by refusing to help or excusing the problem away continually.
Laird says she wrote this in hopes that her memoir could help others struggling with the same kinds of issues and prevent another family from going through what hers did. From the way she writes it's very clear she meant it to help anyone dealing with a "White Elephant" in their life, no matter the origin. Facing the beast is difficult, terrifying, and draining but it's only as large as you let it "grow" and this book is perfect 20/20 hindsight on what happens when you don't deal with the problem head on or make any effort to help those innocent victims standing in the path of destruction. Most surprising that I found was the way this memoir ended-positively. Laird made the decision to find forgiveness and rise above the trauma inflicted upon her even though it meant cutting off certain people she loved in order to save herself and future generations of her family.
I cannot recommend this book enough, whether you have experience with Bi-Polar or not, it is still a beautifully written story by a very talented author who has the power to fully shape a world around you.
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