Dudman’s artistry matches her historic research, and the combination is very rich.


A 19th-century German doctor gropes toward humane treatment of the mentally ill in a poignant story based on a real physician.

Again using her keen intelligence and deftly economical writing to illustrate an important moment in the history of science, the British Dudman, whose 2004 One Day The Ice Will Reveal Its Dead presented the birth of plate tectonic theory, creates a life for the pioneering psychiatrist Heinrich Hoffmann. Hoffmann has a certain literary notoriety for Struwwelpeter or Shockheaded Peter, his ghastly but magnetic collection of didactic verses for children. Struwwelpeter, originally illustrated by Hoffmann himself, was hugely popular for decades and remains available (Google it; it’s not to be missed), but Dudman’s interest is in Hoffmann’s early efforts to break away from the awful remedies that had been used for centuries to treat the insane, epileptic, retarded and otherwise inconvenient souls in this world. Trained in Heidelberg, Hoffmann worked his way into management of the insane asylum in Frankfurt, where Dudman presents him with Hannah Meyer, a young woman from the Jewish ghetto whose mother hopes Hoffmann can help her recover from a mental breakdown. Hannah’s bleak and confused thoughts are interwoven with Hoffmann’s early efforts, a structure that makes for slow going at first. As Hannah’s broken-hearted history is gradually revealed, so are the stories and states of the inmates and staff of the asylum. Hoffmann’s own life is nearly as bleak as his patients’ own lives. His grasping wife Therese has banished her oldest son, Heinrich’s favorite, to boarding school so that she won’t have to deal with his disturbing adolescence. After conventional and dreadful treatments such as galvanic shock and ice water dunkings fail to bring Hannah back, Hoffmann simply talks to her about his own troubles until she is engaged and begins to return from her state of despair.

Dudman’s artistry matches her historic research, and the combination is very rich.

Pub Date: July 21, 2005

ISBN: 0-670-03424-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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