"Mesmerizing... A portrait of something familiar gone wildly, tragically awry."
—The New York Times
“Sometimes, a child is born to a parent who can’t be a parent, and, like a seedling in the shade, has to grow toward a distant sun. Ariel Leve’s spare and powerful memoir will remind us that family isn’t everything—kindness and nurturing are.”
Ariel Leve grew up in Manhattan with an eccentric mother she describes as “a poet, an artist, a self-appointed troublemaker and attention seeker.” Leve learned to become her own parent, taking care of herself and her mother’s needs. There would be uncontrolled, impulsive rages followed with denial, disavowed responsibility, and then extreme outpourings of affection. How does a child learn to feel safe in this topsyturvy world of conditional love?
Leve captures the chaos and lasting impact of a child’s life under siege and explores how the coping mechanisms she developed to survive later incapacitated her as an adult. There were material comforts, but no emotional safety, except for summer visits to her father’s home in South East Asia-an escape that was terminated after he attempted to gain custody. Following the death of a loving caretaker, a succession of replacements raised Leve—relationships which resulted in intense attachment and loss. It was not until decades later, when Leve moved to other side of the world, that she could begin to emancipate herself from the past. In a relationship with a man who has children, caring for them yields a clarity of what was missing.
In telling her haunting story, Leve seeks to understand the effects of chronic psychological maltreatment on a child’s developing brain, and to discover how to build a life for herself that she never dreamed possible: An unabbreviated life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Those who have suffered the psychological abuse, and worse, from parents who are narcissists, bipolar, alcoholics, etc., will find Ariel Leve’s narrative and analysis of the PTSD-like symptoms she suffers a refreshing take on a familiar subject. Ariel’s mother was a member of the literati with excessive self-regard. She had long red fingernails and would prevent damaging them by using chop sticks to use the dial-phone. She was too lazy to use phonebooks to get people’s phone numbers, so she dialed information and accrued monthly phone bills in the hundreds of dollars. Then Ariel’s mother would haggle the operators to have the charges rescinded. In other words, Ariel’s mother was an imperious drama-addict who abused her single child and blamed her for her divorce, accused her of betrayal, told her she had never been loved, and engaged in a birthing game that would compel social services to put Ariel in foster care if they had ever known about this sick...
My childhood experience was not as severe as the author's;however, growing up in a family with emotional instability took it's toll. I am so appreciative that Ariel Leve wrote this book. It has taken me decades to undo the damage and some days are still a struggle. Thank you for bringing validation to my feelings and to my need to separate myself from the toxicity that always threatens to drag me back in.
I have never written an Amazon review. I've never felt compelled to do so. It has also been years since a book has captured my attention so thoroughly that I have read it cover to cover without taking a break for water, food, the bathroom, chores. I am blown away by Leve's beautiful, spare prose. I stand in awe of the bravery it took to tell this story, her story, with both the appropriate amount of anger and compassion. Mostly, I'm just grateful for its existence. I know others will be, too.
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