Songs of Three Islands: A Memoir: A Personal Tale of Motherhood and Mental Illness in an Iconic American Family by Millicent Monks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
WOW. An excellent book. Often when I am reading a book, I'm taken out of the prose to consider how many stars I will end up giving the book (simply because I review so many books). Certain things make me pause like typographical errors, grammatical errors, repetitive information, and circular rather than linear story telling. When these specific things in SONGS OF THREE ISLANDS made me pause, I actually fought against the urge to give the book less stars ... I couldn't possibly have given this book less than five stars. Even though it took me longer to read (because sometimes life interrupts), I couldn't stop thinking about this book. I couldn't wait to return to it and find out what could possibly happen next. Maybe it's because mental illness had threaded its way through my own family lines. Maybe it's because Monks wrote with such lyrical prose. Maybe it's because I couldn't believe I was enjoying a memoir so deeply. Maybe it was all of these reasons.
I'm a deeply religious person, and I can immediately think of several people of similar religious convictions that might not appreciate the spiritual path Monk followed. However, I claim the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of my own conscience and allow others the same privilege, letting them worship how, where, or what they may. Monks did just that. She found what worked for her, and she wrote about it in an absolutely beautiful manner. She wrote, "Life seems like a pause between two worlds ..." (page 221). I agree. I believe the same thing. Mortal life is a short time between our pre-mortal existence and our eternal existence that comes after this.
Mental illness ... why is it so hard for us to discuss? Why do we doubt the depths of it? Why do we blame the family or the individual? If the person had a broken arm, would we treat them differently than we would with a broken pathway in their brain? "Mental illness is not the patient's fault ... these disorders are tied to fundamental disruptions in these circuits [in the brain]" (research cited by Monks on page 219).
Surviving and existing with mentally ill family members is exhausting. It's an absolute miracle that Monks survived her childhood and thrived as an adult. Then to be sandwiched in between a mother and a daughter with mental illnesses, an average person would have crumbled. But the entire memoir is written with desire and hope and longing for something more.
Amidst all of this context, her memoir is sprinkled with interesting historical details and big names. She was, after all, a part of the Carnegie family.
One detail I smiled at: "Our family had been one of the first in the country to ski -- there were no lifts so we put skins on our skis and climbed up the slopes" (page 65). Since I grew up in Idaho, practically at the base of a ski hill, where everyone I knew loved the slopes, I suppose I just assumed the ski lifts had always been there. Why wouldn't they be?
Anyhow. A long review. But it was a great book that had me crying by the end. SONG OF THREE ISLANDS would make an excellent book club choice, because there are so many points to foster a great discussion. I highly recommend it.
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