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Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival Hardcover – September 16, 2008

3.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a supremely brave effort literally to save his own life, Lukas shatters the silence surrounding the long history of suicide in his Hungarian-German-Jewish family, especially that of his older brother, J. Anthony Lukas (Tony). Depression and what is now diagnosed as bipolar disorder hounded various family members, most notably the brothers' beautiful college-educated actress mother, Elizabeth, whose deepening depression, exacerbated no doubt by the sense of guilt and inadequacy in her marriage, led her to cut her own throat in 1941, when the boys were just six and eight. Lukas writes with the reassuring sagacity of hindsight, knowing the negative long-term effects of his mother's mental illness on his brother especially, but at the time her death was mysterious and devastating, and the brothers' relationship grew mutually needy and protective, on the one hand, and fractious and competitive, on the other. Feelings of betrayal, guilt and rage erupted at points during the successful careers for both brothers—Tony as a driven journalist with the New York Times and author (Common Ground) who won two Pulitzer prizes; and Christopher (Kit), an Emmy Award–winning TV producer, author and actor. For Tony, however, who married late, remained childless and took antidepressants, his illness was debilitating, leading him to suicide in 1997. In clear, forceful prose, the author attempts to make sense of these calamities and assert a life-affirming purpose. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Christopher and Tony Lukas's mother committed suicide when they were very young, but the boys were never told how she died—silence was the family's policy on its legacy of mental illness. Regardless, both brothers achieved great success in their fields (the author is a TV producer and director), and their bond was loving but fraught. Sadly, Tony, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his journalism, committed suicide in 1997. Those interested in how mental illness afflicts generations and how to find strength and hope in the face of it will find this remarkably honest memoir resonant. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/08.]—Elizabeth Brinkley
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385525206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385525206
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #734,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a moving account of Mr. Lukas' family experiences with depression. What is most interesting is that he is coming out of a generation where treatment for mental illness was primitive and not very effective. His losses because of that tragic fact are at times overwhelming. When I reached the end of the book I felt that it was a miracle that Mr. Lukas was still alive considering the history he has lived through! I wanted to say to him, "You are extraordinary and accepted and valued exactly for who you are!" His examination has a flavor of psychoanalysis - how have events played themselves out in relationship to his earliest experiences as a boy. Overall, a moving picture of one man's attempt to understand his family relationships.
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Format: Hardcover
Christopher Lukas grew up in a family where most of the members die by suicide. He and his brother were 6 and 8, respectively, when their mother killed herself. This memoir is particularly about his brother, who committed suicide late in life, and himself, the survivor. Why has he survived depression, while so many in his family have not?

Lukas has clearly spent much of his life pondering his circumstances. His writing is lucid, self examining, and clear. Some reviewers had trouble relating to the characters in this book. While my own family experienced nothing like the events described, I found it easy to put myself in the point of view of Lukas and his brother. I came away with a deeper understanding of the difficulties faced by the family when a loved one ends his own life.

Lukas' ultimate question in this book is: Why has he survived when his brother could not? I was fully engaged by this book and its examination of this question. And then I read the final chapter, wherein Lukas gives much credit for his better ability to cope to his, now deceased, wife. Why is so little attention given to her role until the last two pages? Does Lukas really feel this way? Or, was this an afterthought in the wake of her death?

Still, with this as its only flaw, I still highly recommend this book. The insights are valuable and the writing is profound.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I was reading this book I was thinking about these lyrics from a song by Bob Dylan.

This is a book about death.

Or is it a book about life?

Christopher Lukas has written "a memoir of loss and survival".

Indeed. So I guess it's about both death and life. And the shadows that death casts over the living...

In the aftermath of the suicide of his brother (Pulitzer Prize winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas), the author chronicles a family history that also includes the suicides of his grandmother, mother and uncle, the alcoholism and depression of his father, and ultimately the death of his wife to whom the book is dedicated.

It's about abandonment, loss, guilt, and the pain of being left behind. And about dark secrets, things unspoken but undeniable, brokenness, depression, and yes, death.

Other reviewers have noted that the book and its characters are difficult to connect with. This is to some extent true. As Lukas writes, "The first thing that occurs when a person gets fatal news is emotional shock, blocking out the catastrophic events and feelings". It seems to me that the author's trauma is so great that his survival has required him to somehow remain at a distance, and this can be unnerving for the reader.

Anyway, I give it a conditional recommendation. The perspective it provides of a human condition bereft of the warmth that most consider "normal" is valuable and instructive.

One caution: don't confuse this book with the similarly titled Blue Genes by Paul Meier. That one just stinks.
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Format: Hardcover
The story of Christopher Lukas and his brother, award-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas, is a chronicle of mental health medicine's evolution in the 20th century. Their family is struck again and again by bipolar disorder, a disease not yet understood or properly treated until late in the century. Unfortunately, the repercussions from misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment echo through the lives of these brothers with shattering immediacy, starting with the suicide of their mother when the boys were only eight and six years old. Through the years one after another family member succumbs to the disease, ending finally with the suicide of Tony, the story that begins the memoir. The tragedy is in the sheer magnitude of the toll it takes on the family, but Mr. Lukas tells it not only as a memorial to what the he and his brother went through, but as a testament to the fact that, despite it all, he survived.

After relating the account of his family's origins beginning with his great-grandparents, Lukas chronicles the heartbreaking story of his mother's death, and how the boys were immediately shipped off to boarding school with no explanation for their mother's disappearance or chance to say good-bye. This forced delay of grieving was to influence and haunt both men throughout their lives, an added burden to their already confusing personal battles with depression and bipolar disorder. Sadly, in the end it proved a burden too heavy for Tony.

While interesting and thoroughly well-written, this book is a difficult read, mainly due to the pervasive sadness that permeates this family's history. Mr.
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