Tragedy but Blandly Reported

Beslan: Shattered Innocence by Lynn Milburn Lansford


This is one of my signed copies from the BEA. I finished this book a few days ago, and have kept putting off reviewing it for you, because I so wish it was different. Beslan was the site, in September of 2006, of the horrible school seige and then massacre on the first day of school. Hundred of people were killed, most of them children, and those who survived will bear the physical and psychological scars forever. Just typing that, I am horrified that this event ever happened, and I wanted to learn more from this book.

The book means well, it really does. It contains the first-hand experiences of an American woman, the author, who travelled to Beslan after the event happened, hoping to help bring hope and a message of love to the families of Beslan. It also has many first-hand accounts from children and adults who lived through the seige, and family members of those who were killed. But it is all very matter-of-fact, and repetitious.

I wanted to learn in this book. But it takes for granted too much – that we know where Beslan is, that we are familiar with Ossetian religious and political history, that we are intimately familiar with the Chechen crisis, know what or who Ingush is or was – and that is too much to assume. I ended up Googling too many things, and that takes you out of the book, literally and mentally.

I even would have been satisfied if Mrs. Milburn Lansford recounted her own strong thoughts or feelings, some emotion – anything. But it tries so hard, I think, to be impartial, and that is a failing in this case. It comes across as dispassionate.

I thought maybe when i got to the chapter about the trial of the one captured terrorist we would at last get something substantial, but it was just a litany of this or that part of Russian society or government failing, or more to the pint, blaming some other faction for the failures and taking no responsibility,

I am outraged at the events that happened – whosoever’s fault it was. I want a reason why – some history of the Chechen conflict which apparently drove these men and women to commit such an act. I want outrage at the shirking of responsibility! I want to feel the anger that much exist. But the book just fails to deliver. If I read between the lines, and do my own research, I can find stuff out. But I expected more from the book than a litany of sadness and broken lives with no resolution or hope.

I wanted to like the book, or be informed or touched or motivated by it, but I didn’t and wasn’t. There are many photographs, but they are clumped together in one section – I know it’s cheaper to print that way, but feel they would have been more powerful near the text that refers to them. Sorry, Mrs. Millburn Lansford, I know you meant well.

If the subject interests you, you’d be better served by googling for info yourself, sadly. I’m not heartless, honest! It is odd how little we hear about the Chechnyan conflict here in the West, given how connected most of the world is. But I guess the Russian media still has a powerful hold on what leaves its borders.

Just for Fun

I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson


Just finished this book – which was strange for me! I’m used to either reading brand-new, or not-even-released-yet books, or ones that are at least 50 years old that I have found around the house. This book is old enough so its pages are slightly discolored, but it doesn’t smell like “old book,” or “basement.”

A friend of mine on the “left coast” sent me this, as she thought I might enjoy it. It’s a collection of essays, so good for reading a bit at a time. And she was right. The essays are just a few pages long each, so good while waiting for my computer to start up, waiting for a kettle to boil …

And she was right – I did enjoy it. Mr. Bryson is an American, who, at the time he was writing this, had just moved back to America after spending twenty years in England. And he and his wife and children move to Hanover, New Hampshire, which is about an hour North of here. He grew up in the mid-West, so many of his observations are about the oddities of life in New England, the climate and how we all react to it.

Pretty much befuddled by much of life anyway, his observations on the differences of life in America than that of life in England are always fun, often funny, and will make you smile,

I am sure he’s written plenty more since this was printed in 1999, and some of the individual essays are a little dated when he talk about technology and politics, but otherwise it is mostly about us – human beings, and so is pretty timeless stuff.

Not the kind of book you feel compelled to read all at once, but the kind that is good to have around for a chuckle when you need one. And, with the modern wonder are online bookstores, it is still available and “in stock” which is pretty cool in itself!

Real Multiple Personality Case

Switching Time by Richard Baer


A fascinating story of a woman with 17 different personalities in her, told by the doctor who helped her recover her life, one “Alter” at a time.A fascinating story of a woman with 17 different personalities in her, told by the doctor who helped her recover her life, one “Alter” at a time. With the new show “The United States of Tara” with Toni Collette being about to start on Showtime, and advertised heavily as being about “a woman with four personalities who has stopped taking her medication,” it seemed a good time to review this book for you. This is a real, not made-for-TV, not funny, but dreadful and serious case. And no one “medication” is able to help in her case.

The woman, Karen, was abused – emotionally, physically and even sexually from an extremely early age. As the doctor begins to treat her, he realizes that this is not a simple case of depression. He realizes that she has extreme problems, but is also very passive and refusing to help herself. He slowly begins to suspect, then confirm the different “personalities” that live inside her, and think of themselves as separate from her. They range in age from infant to adult.

When Dr. Baer gets a letter from Claire, a seven-year-old little girl who is one of the alters, he knows he can begin the process of letting Karen know about her alters, of whom she initially has no knowledge. She just knows she is miserable, suicidal, and that she “loses time” – becoming aware of hours and sometimes days that she does not remember.

Claire’s letter, and those from others, are shown in the book in the book, and you can clearly see the differences in handwriting that signify each personality. The book includes diagrams by two of the more organized members, and some remarkable drawings by Jensen, one of the boys that are part of her.

The book details their her course of treatment and illness and recovery. The abuse she slowly remembers is horrific, and she bears the physical as well as mental scars that bear witness to the events, no matter how awful it seems. Because of what she suffered, this not an easy read, but “Karen” says in an epilogue that she hopes that everyone who does read it will look at the children they meet with new awareness, so they can intervene if another child is suffering.

It is a remarkable book, and very matter-of-factly told. It is fascinating to read, if you are interested in how human beings can cope, and even survive in the face of unthinkable abuse.