Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ruth Levy Guyer's "A Life Interrupted: The Long Night of Marjorie Day"


A few weeks ago I happened to be wandering around Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington DC's venerable go-to place for the latest chewy policy tomes, when, in the second room, I came upon Opus, the book-making contraption. It struck me rather as a beached whale. Not breathing. But there was a little stack of books that had come out of its maw... I picked up the one on top, A Life Interrupted by Ruth Levy Guyer, and began reading. By the time I got to page 10 or so, I realized, ah, time to buy it and go finish it over a cup of coffee. Or three. Or four.


First of all it's beautifully written, very deeply researched, and strange. It's the true story of Marjorie Day, "Daysey," a bright Wellesley graduate studying in England in the 1920s who came down with sleeping sickness which left her zombie-like and beset by delusions. And then... seventeen years later, after a horrifying odyssey of hospitals and mental institutions, she woke up. Permanently. She then proceeded to have a very nice and very long life as a teacher and then retiree in Georgetown, DC. Even more bizarrely, she never knew that what she'd been suffering from all those years was encephalitis lethargica-- neither her doctor nor her family told her.

The author wrote to Oliver Sacks, whose book and the movie based on his book, tell the story of the victims of sleeping sickness who were woken up, decades later, but only temporarily, by L-dopa.

I asked Sacks if he had ever seen a patient like Daysey, who had recovered completely and permanently.
"I have never seen anything like this in my own practice," he wrote back.

(What in blazes is the state of U.S. publishing that a book of this quality is self-published?)

More anon.