Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival

by Christopher Lukas
Doubleday Books
Reviewed by April D. Boland

Blue Genes by Christopher Lukas is one of the best books I've read this year. That's a pretty tall order, especially as the opening to my review, but it is. I blasted through it in less than a week, and it would have been much quicker if I wasn't gainfully employed.

Lukas' memoir introduces readers to a family plagued by mental illness - namely depression, bipolar disorder and suicide. He describes his family history beginning with his grandparents and their emigration to the United States from Hungary. He eventually makes his way to his young mother and father - their meeting and marriage, as well as the birth of his older brother, J. Anthony (a.k.a. Tony) and himself. The story begins to take a dark turn after Tony's birth, as Lukas' mother suffers from postpartum depression and suicidal tendencies. She recovers from this, but years later, when Tony is eight and Christopher is six, she commits suicide. Naturally this shocks the children and creates deep emotional wounds that will never fully heal.

Upon the death of their mother, Mr. Lukas emotionally abandons his sons. They grow up relying heavily on each other for support, despite rivalries and misunderstandings common to siblings. Tony goes on to Harvard and becomes a famous journalist, writing for The New York Times and winning Pulitzer Prizes for his books. Likewise, Christopher becomes very successful, launching a career in television and winning various Emmy awards. He is even able to channel his feelings about the loss of his mother into a book entitled Silent Grief, which focuses on how to survive the suicide of someone close to you. Yet Tony is not so fortunate, and in 1997, at the age of 64, he too commits suicide.

The loss of his brother compelled Lukas to write this book about his family in general and his brother in particular. It indirectly raises many questions: Is worldly success enough to save us from ourselves? Can we ever fully escape our family demons? How can two brothers turn out so differently, taking such different paths along their own grief? Not all of the answers are clear, but Christopher Lukas gets us to ask the questions. In fact, this book written by another author might have been terribly glum and depressing, but Lukas turns it around to set a fine example for anyone who wants to overcome difficulty and loss. He inspires readers to embrace life as he has, providing an excellent contrast to those he loved who were unfortunately not able to do so.

There is an excellent video about the book at

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