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Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness, and Survival, A Memoir

3.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0813532967
ISBN-10: 0813532965
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Imagining Robert is an account of Robert Neugeboren's 30-year history of mental illness. In this moving memoir, his brother Jay describes the tragedy of psychosis and illustrates the redemptive power of writing. The author imagines his brother as two people--one hospitalized, the other communicative and lucid--and crafts a story of his brother's thoughts by weaving together Robert's exquisitely written letters about this unfolding family tragedy. The instability of the author's own children and his manipulative mother's affliction with Alzheimer's disease multiply the pressure he feels, threatening his own mental health. His careful words seem an attempt to organize the confusion around him. The imagined friendship with the brother he lovingly cares for serves as an important source of self-examination. Neugeboren's prose restores his brother's dignity by refusing to let the details of how Robert has suffered in psychiatric institutions go unrecorded. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Neugeboren (An Orphan's Tale) has written a detailed, exquisitely painful and always thoughtful account of his younger brother's long struggle with mental illness. He includes scenes from their Brooklyn childhood of constantly warring parents, extremes of love and hatred, of holding on too tightly and rejecting too absolutely. Robert Neugeboren, who was born in 1943, suffers from a variety of disorders, all roughly grouped together under schizophrenia. He has needed long periods of restraint and multiple hospital stays. His 30-year battle has coincided frighteningly with numerous changes in our attitudes toward and treatment of such illness. Shuttled from doctor to doctor, Robert has been dosed with almost every polysyllabic wonder drug that has surfaced. Some worked; some didn't. None offered the "magic bullet" that the author hoped and prayed for. Neither did such bizarre fads as putting patients into insulin-induced comas. The narrative touches on the author's parallel life as a writer, academic, divorce and father of two and is shot through with an understandable sense of guilt. Could the family have done more? Would greater financial resources have changed Robert's chances for a normal life? The banal dysfunction of the New York State mental health establishment is horrifying in this portrayal, yet, to most readers of the daily newspaper, totally expected. Nothing is solved here, but Neugeboren's account may bring understanding to those who can barely imagine such horrors and comfort to those who have and have felt alone. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (March 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813532965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813532967
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on January 5, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As someone who has made a career of helping the mentally ill, This book broke my heart. Yet I believed the problems existed as stated.
As the parent of a child who, as a teen, developed the need for the safety of psychiatric hospitals, I cried for Jay and his family.
As someone who became clinically depressed after my child's serious suicide attempt, I easily understood the need for what sometimes seemed like unrealistic optimism.
This book offers something for anyone involved with people who are mentally ill. Read it. Keep it. Learn from it.
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Format: Paperback
I absolutely loved this book. Reviewers here have complained that it's not just about Robert, but about the author and his life. I loved that fact. I too have a brother w/ a mental illness, and I too am a teacher and I like to write. I found all of these stories -- the story of Robert, Jay's connection to him, Jay's struggle to tell Robert's story, and Jay's life as a father -- all equally compelling. I finished the book in 2 days and sent an effusive email to the author, who sent me a kind email back that very same day. This book moved me deeply, made me think and want to write.
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By A Customer on April 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Through this first-hand account the author provides insight into the fumblings of the psychiatric system and how its dealings over three decades with the severly disturbed remain consistantly lacking in focus and purpose beyond attempting to quell "inappropriate" behaviour.
The minute of detail in the work feels, at first, a bit excessive. However, the work gains momentum as one is drawn into the dynamics of Robert and his relationship to the larger world of relatives, friends and worldly experiences.
What emerges is the picture of a person much richer than the stigma of schizophrenia can detract from: a human being who must be taken in total as such, rather than merely a collection of psychiatric symptoms.
The author presents a model of how compassion, family, and friends may not "cure" such a devistating illness, but can contribute to making such a difficult life take on worthwhile meaning.
And through these recollections of his brother, the author gives Robert a presence in the world far beyond the walls of his confinement.
D.P. Hoffman Houston, TX
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I sometimes have difficulty concentrating while reading, I did not have any trouble zipping through this extremely interesting book about both Robert and Jay. I laughed and cried and swore, I hated their mother and the stupid mental health professionals, I counted my blessings. I also found the writing as irritating as one of other reviewers did, but I just kept on going for an overall revealing, enjoyable reading experience. Convoluted sentences are hardly the Neugeboren brothers' biggest problems. Thanks, Jay--and Robert.
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Format: Hardcover
If you want to understand more about mental illness, read this book. The author tries to "imagine Robert", his younger brother who has spent most of his adult life coping with mental illness. The author looks at Robert's life wholistically - not as an illness or label, but as a man with a history, unique set of experiences and a creative, loving and mercurial personality. The information about mental illness is great and will raise consciousness for many. The dispassionate, bureaucratic and often senseless 'treatment' theories and facilities are described as accurately as anything I've read and experienced. As an advocate for the mentally ill, I applaud this book. As a reader, I thank Robert and his brother for allowing me this special glimpse into their lives. I truly can imagine Robert and appreciate how blessed are those who know him
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Format: Hardcover
I learned alot about the life of someone with a non-trivial emothional problem(s) and how society (and families) treats them. I also experienced an absorbing personal story that made it hard for me to put the book down. Well written, highly absorbing, educational, and highly recommeneded.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the most honest book I've ever read. There is not a moment in it where I felt manipulated by a writer - only spoken to from the heart of a brilliant man.

Imagining Robert is a seminar on what it means to be human - a textbook on the price we pay for carving ourselves into the shape our culture demands if we are to achieve in it the safety and "success" - the love - we all long for. We are limitless, in our capacities, when we are born. The shape of survival, alas, is oh so narrow. Many cannot bring themselves to take up the knife, they flinch before the self-mutilation. So our parents slice away at us, schools, society, religions, government - everyone gets into the act. To save us, to make us socially acceptable.

That Jay Neugeboren managed to remain himself, through the distortions of time and its demands, to struggle back again and again to a basis of love, responsibility, and best of all creativity, is a miracle of every day life. I believe all of us who have survived (and survival is a big part of this book) have lived the life he describes. Only the details differ. Those who fail - whose spirits die, who like Robert cannot live in the world, or like his cousin, who leapt out of a window to escape it - the failures are also legion. Of course the true failure lies in the society of humans that cannot allow breathing space for the "different ones." That creates "misfits."

Here we also see, behind the people in this book, the shadows of our eons-long history as a species. Tribes who killed the different ones; tribes who used their gifts; the armies of slaughterers, the armies of saviors. All the way to today. The parameters are new - we've developed technologies that seem to separate us from our earliest forebears. But we have not changed, in our selves.

This book is not only brave, which other readers point out. It is brilliant. I believe - I hope - I'll never be the same again.
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