Cheers!! This is to resuming blogging after ages to celebrate revival of my reading habit, thanks to my weekly 6 hours metro ride.
Sybil was a book I had stumbled upon at my all time favorite bookstore – Midland (Aurobindo Market, New Delhi) on my birthday. One may buy a zillion books online, but nothing beats the pleasure of random browsing at a bookstore. Given my latest fetish for mental illness thanks to my recent project, the book summary really fascinated me. After reading few reviews online and getting a confirmatory nod from the bookstore owner (who thankfully does know his books!!), I made this purchase. This 400 pages book or rather Sybil became a part of my life as the story unfolded and was actually sad when it came to an end as if a part of my life had been taken away.
The book was based on a true story of Shirley Ardell Mason who suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder, written by a journalist- Flora Rheta in close consultation with Sybil’s psychiatrist: Dr Cornelia Wilbur. It was the first documented case of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The book and the movie became a huge hit in 1970s and many cases of multiple personality were diagnosed post it. Reading reviews online, I discovered perhaps the psychiatrist and the journalist had fabricated the whole story to earn quick fame and the multiple personalities had been created only under the effect of drugs. Irrespective of whether or not it was true, the book was a very interesting read, especially since it presented the syndrome from a psychiatrist point of view and not the weird mystical way it had been presented in most Hollywood movies I had seen thus far.
The book describes in detail Sybil’s therapy spanning about 11 years. Initially, her conscious personality had been too tightlipped about her problems but the other personalities made appearances to help the doctor diagnose the disorder. It was disturbing as the book slowly unfolded the shocking extent of childhood abuse by her schizophrenic mother that had triggered her unconscious mind to develop 16 different personalities, each equipped with a unique trait of coping with a particular situation. It was very interested to know the symptoms of Sybil’s syndrome. It was interesting that the main personality- Sybil was not aware of the other personalities but all the other personalities knew each other. Sybil just knew she couldn’t account for time and many things in her wardrobe or paintings.
The book forces you to question your own sanity as you do hold repressed memories and develop different traits to cope with challenges life throws at you and society doesn’t allow you to express. It truly makes you question if there is another unconscious personality beneath our conscious one, doing things inaccessible to our waking self. Time and again I had to put the book down, get my sanity back and then resume reading the book.
I could personally relate to Sybil more because she was an artist with a quiet reserved personality like me. Only, I would have preferred if some of the sketches/ paintings described in the book, had been included. I would definitely include one sketch from my side soon!
I watch my niece’s first experiences with the world around her. She satiates her curiosity and completes her exploration of a new object with all 5 senses: look, touch, feel, smell and finally take it in her mouth to taste. I don’t stop her, just ensure she doesn’t hurt herself.
As adults, for which new experience do we let all our senses be involved?
I got a chance to indulge an adult, much younger than me, live through experiences again vicariously.
His first flight. I observe and guide.
His ascent in life and profession. I wait and watch. His genuine glee.
I gave him wings, my only plea, don’t use them to fly away from me. He did exactly that.
When the initial attraction is over, you need something to fall back on; there was nothing, only mind’s play. Fell down with a thud.
I read this book for the book discussion of Delhi Heritage Walks and it was so fascinating that I finished reading in less than 2 days (about 200 pages). I have a fascination for history but this book is different from other historical books in that unlike most historical books that describe a trail of events, this book is describing different voices of a single historical event- the raid of Somanatha temple by the Afghan ruler- Mahmud of Ghazani and how the single event has been modified by different sources to suit their own interests.
The original Hindu and Jain sources of the period barely mention the event and it is fast forgotten and the temple soon becomes derelict on its own due to perishing trade in that region. But it is fascinating how the event is given such significance in the later British sources earlier to represent the defeat of Hindu pride by the Muslim invaders. It is also funny as to how the gates of Somanatha Temple are added by a British which have no mention earlier and still they become the central point of negotiations post that till the gates are brought back and then forgotten completely when it is ascertained that the Gates have Islamic architecture and not Hindu. The event is still being cited by the RSS and other Hindu fanatics.
Thus it is important for anyone to read all historical sources before one forms an opinion about any event because history will always bear the perspectives of the author.
This review was more from the perspective of a layman like me. For a historian’s perspective please do read this blog: http://blog.delhiheritagewalks.com/dhw-book-club-discussion-on-romila-thapars-somanatha-6-dec-15/#more-2408
Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? Act II Scene III Twelfth Night
My discovery of Maugham is entwined with my discovery of College Street at Kolkatta and I can’t describe one without the other now. I had heard a lot about College Street at Kolkatta but it turned out to be even better than the description. True that unlike Daryaganj, the street is not very long and most of the vendors are selling books for college and competitive exams but when I finally spotted one vendor selling novels and picked up a Somerset Maugham lying there, he got me all the Maughams he had and it was difficult for me to choose which ones among them I should pick. Then I spotted a Tennyson- Complete Works, he sold it to me saying that it is a collector’s item. I was so happy that he actually knew who Maugham and Tennyson were and was not selling the books based on the thickness.
Cakes and Ale was one of the Maughams I had picked up from the shop- published in 1976 and first bought by someone in 1986, hence a prized possession for me.
The opening preface by Maugham itself got me hooked on to the book. I love how he tries to explain as to how the book fell into controversy as it was considered to be about some authors whereas he says it was mostly autobiographical taking inspiration from some living personalities.
The most striking part of the book is the satirical description of the literary world- facetious and fickle, wherein the success of the book is more dependent on the marketing of the author and the book and not on the content of the book itself.
The only person non-conforming to this facetious world was Rosie Driffield- a promiscuous ex-bartender who has a childlike smile and a unique zeal for life. Like the characters of strong independent women created by other authors, Rosie was highly promiscuous and touched the life of everyone around her including the protagonist, who doesn’t think highly of any character in the book except Rosie.
I wished the book would never end, but now that it has, I have a lingering urge to reread it or pick up another Maugham.
Most of the historical fictions and translated books are badly written but this one is a total exception. This book is very well written. Also I discovered only later that the book was written in French and was translated to English by Russel Harris.
The book covers interesting phases in Persian history. The first half trails the life of Omar Khayyam in 11th century Central Asia, his 9 year affair with court poetess Jahan, his success as a philosopher, astronomer, mathematician etc. The story also features – Nizam ul Mulk, the Muslim Machiavelli who is still remembered for his brilliant innovations in government and Hassan Sabbah, the founder of the Order of the Assassins and the castle at Alamut.
The second half trails the life of an American scholar who after getting obsessed with the Samarkand manuscript travels to Iran in 1896, and lives through the Persian revolution post Shah’s assassination and the Persian struggle to establish democracy, amidst extreme foreign interference. The story culminates when the Samarkand manuscript sinks with the Titanic in 1912, lost to the world forever.
All I can say is that I had picked up the book for Samarkand before my trip to Uzbekistan but the book has piqued my interest in Persia (Iran) so much that I have bought 2 books: Understanding Iran by William R.Polk and Rubaiyat by Khayyam, published in 1942 (oldest I could find and had to get it shipped from US.
“Time … has two dimensions, its length is measured by the rhythm of the sun but its depth by the rhythm of passion.” (Pg 26)
“I am not poor for my desires are simple.” (Pg 27)