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on January 5, 2000
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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on August 3, 2006
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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on April 28, 1999
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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on December 24, 1998
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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on April 1, 1997
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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on September 6, 2006
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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on January 26, 2014
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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on October 31, 1999
First, the good things: it must have taken courage to write the book, because of the possibility of betraying the privacy of the family. At the same time, the writing process must have been immensely satisfying. I imagine Jay finishing it, sitting back, smiling, and saying "If God takes me tomorrow, that's ok; the story has been told." In fact, Jay came to visit my college English class, and he told us that's exactly what he was thinking. I know how difficult it is to tell a true story about oneself in such remarkable detail, which is why the book earns three stars. But based on its execution, I'd rather only give it two. Here's why...
Is this book really about Robert? How many times does Jay congratulate himself on rising above a background that was out to get him? He went to Columbia, you know. And did he mention he's a writer? He throws that in so many times, you just KNOW he views being a writer as the noblest and most enviable profession in the world. The phrase "my accomplishments" crops up an awful lot, especially in a book supposedly dedicated to a mentally ill brother. Also, did Jay mention he's a writer?
And yes, the sentence structure was maddening (pun intended). A sentence can go on for an entire page, sometimes to such ridiculous lengths that I'd walk down the hall and read it aloud to my friends, just to show them with what I was dealing. I understand this problem a bit, though. I imagine Jay sitting at his desk with so much to say, afraid that if he doesn't put as much down as possible, as soon as it comes into his head, he'll lose it. So he erects a quick parenthetical fence and sends it down.
Basically, when I'd finished reading the book for my English class, I wished that Robert could come to visit instead of Jay. Much as Jay tries to overshadow him, Robert is the star of this book and a truly fascinating character. I realize that I only know about Robert through Jay's writing, so I respect Jay for that. But the book irritated me to no end. I guess I'm just not sensitive enough.
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on September 19, 2015
I liked this book more at the beginning and have not finished it in over 6 months. It gets very depressing. I do think there is a lot of therapeutic value in reading about other families experiences with mental illness as we don't have much of a place to go to find this out otherwise. It is such a nightmare and we still have no great answers to help people.
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This is a marvelous book, one of the best I have ever read. It is the authors memoir of his brother Robert. He attempts to compose a life, one that is unique, creative and mercurial.

Robert has spent most of his adult life struggling with mental illness, enmeshed in a bureaucratic and dispassionate system that views him as a disease or label, giving little attention to the human composition of this precious man.

Robert and Jay's lower middle class Brooklyn upbringing evoked many similar images from my own childhood in New York. Their narcissistic mother uses shame and guilt as the means to inspire adoration. Their mother worships their father who is emotionally non-existent to Jay and Robert.

Jay attempts to understand who Robert is a a component of his family, society, experiences and genetics. He opposes the reductionist medical model of mental illness and abhors the dehumanizing treatment model that Robert has been forced to endure. Their love is poignant and this book is a grand testimony to their relationship. I imagine Robert.
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