From an award-winning journalist comes a haunting debut novel examining the inner world of the mentally ill and those within their gravitational pull.
Neil Kapoor, 23, is desperate to create a life beyond the shadow of his mother’s schizophrenia. Years of successive relapses and rehabilitation’s have forced his father into the role of caretaker and Neil into that of silent witness. But there is no light within this joyless ritual, and any hope for the future rests on finding an exit.
Amidst her latest breakdown, Neil attends drama school in pursuit of a role that might better express the truth of who he is. What started as a desperate gambit becomes the fragile threads of a new life. A relationship blooms with Emily, and each finds strength – and demons – in the other. New friendships with Quincy and Tim grow close and complex. But the emotional remove needed to keep these two lives separate destabilizes the family. Neil’s father, the one constant in the chaos, buckles under the pressure. Enlisting the aid of an Aunt with means and questionable motives, Neil plies ever-greater deceptions to keep the darkness at bay. But this time there will be no going back. As his mother falls to terrifying depths a decision must be made: family or freedom?
In this powerful fiction debut, Anish Majumdar shines a much-needed light into the journey of those coping with serious mental disorders and the loved ones who walk alongside them. Incisive and filled with moments of strange beauty, it marks the arrival of a unique voice in American letters.About Anish Majumdar.
About the Author:
As a child growing up in Montreal, Canada, Anish Majumdar’s first creative writing lessons came courtesy of his mother, a former English teacher. Witnessing her struggle with schizophrenia had a profound impact and inspired The Isolation Door, his first novel. His non-fiction work, appearing in many publications, has garnered Independent Press Association Awards for Feature Writing and Investigative Journalism. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives with his wife, son, and a growing menagerie of pets in Rochester, NY.
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What kind of research went into writing your book?
ve also had a chance to compare notes with therapists and social workers who have dealt with schizophrenics in the past, and realized that many other families are coping with their version of what we went through. I also put a significant amount of research into the types of drugs being prescribed to schizophrenics as well as the continuing controversy which surrounds schizophrenia, which some in the medical community believe is actually a catch-all term for multiple mental disorders.
How did growing up in a Bengali/Indian community in Montreal influence your worldview?
My relationship with the Bengali community in Montreal has definitely changed over the years. As a kid, I loved hanging out with the sons and daughters of family friends, watching movies in the basement and playing video games while our parents passionately debated politics upstairs. The amount of love Bengalis have for their children cannot be denied. However, the perspective of a cultural group composed of immigrants is vastly different from the perspectives of their children. As I got older and developed an interest in the arts, I came up against huge amounts of blowback from my parents and those in the community who knew me well. They didn’t understand why I was opting to go down such a risky path. I couldn’t understand the point of bowing and scraping and spending your life as a cipher because “that’s just the way things are.” During the latter years of high school and well past college, my rebellious nature prevailed and contact with this community was extremely limited. However, despite whatever criticisms I may have faced, many of these families ended up being the biggest fans of my acting and writing. As I began to make headway in these fields, I grudgingly won the respect of many of them. As I grew more self-confident and unabashed about exactly the kind of person I am, those who had previously seen me as a child began to see me as an adult. Ultimately, the thing that will always bind us together is loyalty—these people, who have been there since I was born and have been there at every major milestone since, will always care for me. Nothing I do will ever really drive them away. And that’s a quality I respect and treasure.
Has your relationship with your mother changed since writing this book?
My mother and I communicate more clearly with each other these days, and with less emotional baggage. Writing the book and creating a new life in the U.S. with my wife has, in many ways, removed the bedrock fear that something was wrong with me too and the dysfunction we lived through growing up would sabotage my ability to create a happy family life of my own. The truth is, life in my parents’ home was, and will always be, centered around catering to the whims of a schizophrenic. But my priority these days is being a loving husband and attentive father to my newborn son—and when push comes to shove, this will always take precedence over the needs (or obsessions) of my mother. These days, when my mother comes to visit, I make sure to call out any disturbing behaviors she’s displaying immediately. If she starts mumbling to herself, I’ll let her know. If she starts hiding things or displays other paranoid traits, I will let her and my father know. Far from alienating her, this approach seems to be a huge help to both of us. A big part of schizophrenia is lacking an awareness of these types of things. For far too long, we believed that ignoring these early signs meant sparing her feelings. Unfortunately, it also meant that she would spiral out of control that much sooner. By taking this upfront approach, she understands how her actions affect the rest of the family, and I get to communicate how I’m feeling in a positive way. This has resulted in a healthier relationship for both of us. Also, seeing how nurturing she is when around Mickey, my son, has been a truly wonderful experience. When he was born, I remember going to the waiting room and showing Mom some first pictures. Halfway through scrolling through them, she looked up, and, in a tone of total amazement, exclaimed, “My god, you’re a Dad!” That kind of lightness of spirit comes through when she holds and plays with him. Honestly, it’s not something I ever thought I’d see again.
In an ideal world, how would we view mental illness? Do you think we’re moving toward eliminating the stigma?
The current situation with regards to mental illness and treatment in this country is what I’d call a “quiet crisis” and is worsening at an alarming rate. Decades of neglecting this population of patients and dismantling long-term care facilities have resulted in only about 30% of mentally ill people in the U.S. actually receiving the kind of care they need. The rest are funneled into the judicial/prison system or, if they don’t have family support, are tossed out into the streets to fend for themselves. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in the number of incidents such as the Sandy Hook shooting, where a mentally ill person snapped and went off the rails. With the current infrastructure that’s in place when it comes to the mentally ill, which should be recognized for the national embarrassment it is, is it any surprise that we’re seeing such horrific outcomes? One in four Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetimes. What kind of a message are we sending by telling 25% of our fellow citizens that they don’t deserve the same level of care, support, and treatment as everyone else? Unless we, as a society, have the courage to look mental illness in the eye and embrace those affected as brothers and sisters, we will all fall together.
What advice can you offer kids and young adults who are dealing with schizophrenia in their families?
Your ultimate loyalty is to yourself. Love for your family can be a double-edged sword—if caring for someone sick means sacrificing your future or your happiness, then you seriously need to consider cutting ties. I know this sounds cold, but I’ve seen way too many friends who’ve come up in similar circumstances become enslaved by the illness of a family member and accept a life that is beneath their potential. The irony of this approach is that it rarely results in a happy outcome for anyone. How can you take care of a loved one if you aren’t taking care of yourself? How can you lift someone up when you can’t stand on your own two feet? Whatever the cost, take the steps necessary to go after your dreams. A family member who cares for your happiness will understand. If they can’t, then it’s the illness talking, and the illness should never have that kind of influence. Don’t allow yourself to become another casualty of schizophrenia.
Tell us more about how you started writing. Any advice for aspiring writers?
The best writing comes out of a deep-seated need to express yourself. My mother, a former English teacher, used to give me nightly writing assignments as a child. She never cared about my literary voice, or my process, or what writers I admired . . . all that mattered was the honesty on the page. I never forgot that lesson. Writing a book starts out as fun and gets progressively more difficult. You’ll never make it to the end unless it’s something you have to do (as opposed to want to do). Will and clarity of purpose cannot be learned—everything else can. One other thing: read the books you want to read, not the ones you feel you should. A good writer is a stubborn person—learn to develop the capacity to do and read and be exactly the way you want to be. Listen to yourself beyond everyone else—it’s your job to lead, not follow.
Monday, February 3rd: Bookish Ardour
Tuesday, February 4th: Book Lust
Wednesday, February 5th: WV Stitcher
Thursday, February 6th: Books in the Burbs - Author Q&A
Friday, February 7th: Guiltless Reading
Monday, February 10th: Bound by Words
Tuesday, February 11th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, February 12th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, February 12th: Guiltless Reading Author Q&A
Thursday, February 13th: Found Between the Covers
Friday, February 14th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, February 17th: The Best Books Ever
Tuesday, February 18th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, February 19th: Reading on a Rainy Day
Thursday, February 20th: 5 Minutes for Books
Friday, February 21st: My Bookshelf
Monday, February 24th: Literally Jen
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