After being hospitalized as a girl in 1950s Montreal, memoirist Rossi recalls her years spent as an unwilling medical test subject, most likely under a project funded by the CIA.
Too much of Rossi’s life took place in institutions, beginning at age 6 when her mother abandons her at an orphanage without informing the rest of the family. Rossi eventually returns home, only for her father to die, which results in another 4-year-long orphanage stint. After getting out, Rossi contracts hepatitis; at age 16 she’s checked into Royal Victoria Hospital, a teaching hospital. There, her prescribed drugs include a tranquilizer known to aggravate hepatitis—unsurprisingly, she doesn’t recover. Worse, she grows depressed, which leads to a transfer to the hospital’s psychiatric arm—the Allan Memorial Institute, with clandestine funding from the CIA—and back again, several times over the next three-and-a-half years. That’s where her initial indignities—painful needles, pills swallowed without water, manhandling by interns—transform into abject mistreatment: she’s injected with mysterious, deleterious drugs and deprived their antidotes; doctors wheel her into the operating theatre for unauthorized surgeries; and cruel sleep therapy keeps her mostly asleep for a month. Most of the startling though stiff and disjointed narrative is pure description, with little dialogue or emphasis on scene-setting and plot trajectory. Misplaced excerpts abruptly interrupt the narrative without explanation, while numerous spelling and grammatical errors distract from the agony as well. Fortunately, Rossi survived to lead a happy adult life—this book serves as a testament to her unbreakable will. But a cleaner presentation and sharper perspective are needed to carry this litany of injustices beyond sympathy into whole-hearted outrage.
A fractured, unpolished but chilling record of dark institutional misdeeds.