AUTOPSY OF WAR by John A. Parrish


A Personal History
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A distinguished physician reflects on a tormented life haunted by memories of his one-year war.

Given his tumultuous upbringing, perhaps Parrish (Between You and Me: A Sensible and Authoritative Guide to the Care and Treatment of Your Skin, 1978, etc.) would have ended up on the psychiatrist’s couch in any event. However, this anxious, bright and dutiful son went on to Duke and to Yale for medical school. By then, married with two children and facing the draft, he volunteered for the Navy and served a 1967-68 tour in Vietnam. There, treating the horribly maimed and looking into the face of dying grunts, he acquired the “invisible wounds of war” that have haunted him ever since. Parrish’s recollection of that harrowing year and the collision of his Christian morality and boyish notions of soldiering with the war’s too-real trauma constitute this memoir’s most memorable passages. The rest is a dual tale of remarkable professional success and private pain and instability. After obsessively rewriting his own war story, silently visiting a homeless veterans’ shelter, living alone and celibate, or together with mismatched partners, Parrish finally sought help to treat his clinical depression. Only after exhausting a menu of spiritual remedies, finally getting with the right woman, submitting to an uncommonly adept therapist, reconnecting with his wartime hooch-mates, revisiting Vietnam, and today directing the Home Base Program (for veterans suffering from brain injuries and PTSD) has he found a measure of peace. After recounting his bumpy road to recovery, Parrish wonders if this unvarnished revelation of personal suffering amounts to little more than a continuation of the self-centeredness that drove him professionally and trashed his family. Some readers will answer yes, while others will credit him with an honest attempt to explain the full dimensions of an affliction we still know far too little about.

A useful introduction to the causes and consequences of PTSD.

Pub Date: June 5th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-65496-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2012


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