Friday, November 1, 2013
Review: Mind Without a Home
paperback, 260 pages
a review copy of this book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours
This is a powerful book. Mind Without a Home is memoir, a personal account of a life lived with addiction and major mental illness. Kristina Morgan tells the story of her entire life, a life that has been difficult beyond measure, but there is no self-pity in this account. I am left with an impression of incredible bravery, of a courage and tenacity that is almost unimaginable.
Morgan begins with an account of her parents sitting in an ice cream parlor; the couple is barely out of high school when Hannah tells Jeremy she is pregnant. They marry, and have three daughters. Kristina is the oldest. Of the three girls, none is unscathed by addiction and mental illness, and they are raised by an alcoholic mother who will eventually die of liver disease caused by her drinking. Morgan does not tell her story in strict chronological order but in fragmentary vignettes, scattered moments, impressions, and poetic scenes that are occasionally confusing because of the chronological leaps back and forth in time.
Kristina Morgan tells her story through the lens of her illness, and that is what makes this memoir both fragmented and extraordinarily beautiful. Morgan's vignettes convey the nature of her mind--sometimes rooted in the "common reality" we all share, and sometimes colored by psychosis. In addition to grappling with the struggle of alcoholism, Morgan fights a heroic struggle to live with her condition, schizophrenia. Throughout her memoir, Morgan is hospitalized repeatedly, and she finally accepts her diagnosis and the necessity of medication, and beyond medication, her own person efforts toward wellness and balance.
Mind Without a Home is written entirely in impressionistic vignettes and short scenes. I feel this conveyed beautifully the experience of being in the writer's mind, and I understood the anguish, but also the beauty of a mind that functions differently. The writing itself is quite beautiful and at times it soars into exquisite poetry. Morgan's mind tends naturally to metaphor and simile, and there is line after line of striking beauty and originality.
I finished this book with a profound respect for all that Morgan has accomplished: a college degree, forays into work, and even a stint as a high school English teacher. She has a MFA in poetry from Arizona State University. One of the most poignant sections of the memoir describes Morgan's love of teaching, and the crushing disappointment she felt when the disclosure of her schizophrenia led to her dismissal from her teaching position.
Morgan's memoir is remarkable for its complete lack of bitterness or even regret. She has had much to overcome, but she writes with gratitude of family, especially a grandmother who showed her love and support throughout her illness. Pens and paper have clearly been Morgan's salvation, and her gift for writing is stunning and quite powerful; it overshadows even her illness.
I found Mind Without a Home beautiful, powerful, and most of all inspiring. This memoir demystifies an illness that many regard with fear, and the writer illustrates that a good life and a worthy life is possible, even in the face of such an illness. Mind Without a Home has moments of darkness, but in the end it is a book that is filled with courage and light. Highly recommended for those interested in addiction, mental illness, and lovers of poetry.