HALFWAY HEAVEN: Diary of a Harvard Murder by Melanie Thernstrom
Kirkus Star

HALFWAY HEAVEN: Diary of a Harvard Murder

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Part mystery, part exposâ, Thernstrom's gripping account of a murder/suicide at Harvard (which she reported on for the New Yorker) combines fascinating case material with great seriousness of purpose. In May 1995, just days before commencement, Sinedu, a Harvard undergraduate from Ethiopia, brutally murdered Trang, her Vietnamese-immigrant roommate, and then committed suicide. The crime was both shocking and puzzling. Yet little explanation was offered by Harvard, which seemed to want to suppress the story. Thernstrom (The Dead Girl, 1990), herself a Harvard graduate (and daughter of Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, see p. 1020), discovers some troubling factors at the school, including a view of multiculturalism that lacks true understanding of other cultures; the inadequacies of mental health services there and on most American college campuses; and a flawed system for advising students (exemplified by the troubled Dunster House, where both girls lived). She also finds that Harvard was dishonest and manipulative in its handling of the case. Thernstrom adroitly peels away the layers of mystery surrounding Sinedu's motives and portrays with great sensitivity the private and cultural worlds of two young women who came to Harvard to realize their dreams. She even travels to Ethiopia in search of clues to the murderer's elusive character and background. What she pieces together is the compelling and terrible story of a lonely young woman whose obsessive fantasizing about an ideal friend leads her to a psychotic jealousy that ends in the fatal act of revenge against the unresponsive object of her attention. Equally powerful is Trang's story, one defined by thoughtfulness and a belief that it is possible to aspire and to succeed. Finally, contemplating how this story has forever altered her relationship to her alma mater, and ruminating on the ethics and procedures of investigative journalism, Thernstrom moves beyond the actual case without ever losing sight of it. Thernstrom has written a powerful indictment of Harvard and a cautionary tale of alienation's destructive power--even among the most talented.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Doubleday