Through the character of Karla, debut author Mayer chronicles her life, from a traumatic childhood in Austria through her retirement from successful psychiatry practice in the United States.
Part autobiography, part call to arms for childhood sex abuse victims and part exploration of Eastern healing, Mayer tells her story through the eyes of Karla, who, along the way, is sexually assaulted by multiple adult male perpetrators, with little support or empathy from the adults in her life. She’s briefly left behind with an aunt and uncle and then kidnapped, though somewhat willingly, by her mother. Her turbulent childhood continues through her mother’s remarriage, strained relationships with siblings, the challenges of immigration and the concealment of an explosive family secret. In adulthood, Karla settles into medicine, marriage and maternity while facing both personal and professional challenges. The fast-paced plot includes unplanned pregnancies greeted with joy or consternation, sudden deaths, protracted illnesses, abortions and marital strife. The variety of events heightens interest, but the somewhat stilted writing style can detract from reading pleasure (e.g., “Still, she had no doubt that all the craziness in her family influenced her interest in psychiatry, where these aberrations are studied in an educated manner”). Similarly, Mayer presents an unabashedly one-sided view that can come across as Pollyannaish: “As Karla thought about her mother as an innocent young girl, loyal to her family, not fearing work, and ambitious, she pictured her as being open to the world and not prepared for all the deceit in it. Her heart felt a thrill at what a wonderful young woman her mother had been.” Despite these shortcomings, though, the autobiographical portions of the book are likely to have broad appeal. Also, much of the Eastern philosophy will be interesting to readers regardless of their personal beliefs, although some of Mayer’s assertions (she claims to be the reincarnation of Genghis Khan’s mother, and her husband is the reincarnation of Khan himself) will strain believability for many readers.
An expansive, uneven work that would benefit from a narrower focus.