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The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia Hardcover – January 14, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (January 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547519273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547519272
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #376,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

While studying in India on a Fulbright scholarship in 2002, Ohio native MacLean abruptly lost consciousness and came to his senses in a Hyderabad train station minus any memories of his name or reasons for being there. Luckily, a kindly station attendant took pity on the presumably drug-addled foreigner and found him refuge in a well-run mental hospital where he hallucinated his way back to reality as friends and parents were contacted. So begins this riveting, sad, and funny memoir from PEN literary award-winner MacLean, expanded from an essay featured on the radio show, This American Life. Contrary to the station agent’s assumption, however, MacLean’s amnesia was triggered by an allergic reaction to Lariam, a common antimalaria agent that receives a scathing critique here. In addition to short-circuiting his memories, the drug’s aftermath forced MacLean to get reacquainted with his parents, a girlfriend, and his rationale for coming to India in the first place. His work is both a sharply written autobiography and an insightful meditation on how much our memories define our identities. --Carl Hays

Review

"MacLean has written a memoir that combines the evocative power of William Styron's "Darkness Visible," the lyric subtlety of Michael Ondaatje's "Running in the Family," and the narrative immediacy of a Hollywood action film. He reminds us how we are all always trying to find a version of ourselves that we can live with." - The Los Angeles Times 

"(MacLean) is an exceedingly entertaining psychotic." "Thanks to his raw, honest and beautiful memoir, readers will . . . have a clear idea what his experience was like. We can be grateful Mr. MacLean has remembered so much, and so well."  - The New York Times

Praise for The Answer to the Riddle is Me:

"A gripping medical mystery, a heartwarming personal journey, and a chilling indictment of the commonly prescribed drug that upended MacLean's life—but left his superb literary skills intact."
—Rebecca Skloot, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

"A mesmerizing, unsettling memoir about the ever-echoing nature of identity—written in vivid, blooming detail."
—Gillian Flynn, New York Times bestselling author of Gone Girl

"MacLean fearlessly explores his journey to the edge of madness and his subsequent return to sanity in an unsettling, sometimes riotous, memoir."
Publishers Weekly

"A deeply moving account of amnesia that explores the quandary of the self . . . MacLean has written a memoir that combines the evocative power of William Styron's ‘Darkness Visible,’ the lyric subtlety of Michael Ondaatje's ‘Running in the Family’ and the narrative immediacy of a Hollywood action film. He reminds us how we are all always trying to find a version of ourselves that we can live with."
Los Angeles Times

"incandescent...MacLean’s account is raw and unsparing, and will surely take you out of your comfort zone — the reader is immersed in the writer’s oblivion and his vertiginous journey of recovery — but the reward for sticking with it is the privilege of reading MacLean’s profound and finely nuanced meditation on memory and identity."
The Seattle Times

"What does it mean to be the person you are? How much can be stripped away before you are no longer you? This is a fascinating book that resides in the mind as if you lived it yourself. "
—Robert Boswell, author of Tumbledown

"Thoughtful, terribly honest, often funny, and utterly un-self-indulgent, this is a riveting work of narrative art."
—Tony Hoagland, author of What Narcissism Means to Me

"A compelling personal account and a frightful caution to physicians and travelers who continue to place their faith in a very dangerous drug."
—Dr. Remington L. Nevin, MPH, Mefloquine expert

"Brilliant and painful and hilarious."
—Antonya Nelson, author Some Fun

"David Stuart MacLean is a writer who can break your heart, terrify you, and make you laugh all on the same page. The Answer to The Riddle is Me is a masterful exploration of the funhouse of identity."
—Mat Johnson, author of Pym

"While MacLean's experience is unlucky indeed, the luck becomes ours as he takes us with him on his harrowing journey, which is rendered with exactitude, humor, and lyricism."
—Maggie Nelson, author of The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

Customer Reviews

The story MacLean tells is powerful and the writing is beautiful.
Robert Boswell
I felt as if I were inside the author's mind as I read about his horrifying trajectory through amnesia and chemically-induced psychosis.
dorothy
He captures how he perceived different people and situations that makes you feel like you are right with him.
atmj

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By N. B. Kennedy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
On October 17, 2002, David MacLean woke up on a train platform in Hyderabad, India. He had no idea where he was or why he was there. Not only that, but he didn't even know WHO he was. Mr. MacLean hadn't been sleeping -- he was standing when he came to -- and he hadn't been drinking or taking drugs. Illegal drugs, that is. He had been taking an anti-malarial medicine, Lariam (mefloquine). In time, he discovers he suffered a mental break and total amnesia as a result of taking that drug while living in India on a Fulbright scholarship.

Through the proverbial kindness of strangers, Mr. MacLean is passed along to a dizzying succession of good Samaritans, some with their own theories of his problem. "There, there," says a police officer at the train station. "You foreigners come to my country and do your drugs and get confused. It will be all right, my friend."

And, eventually, it seems that everything is all right. It's eleven years down the road, and Mr. MacLean has written this eloquent account of his ordeal. But his recovery has been a long, agonizing one that has severed the person he used to be from the person he is now. In many ways, the divide levels him with shame-inducing guilt and regret. He learns, for example, that he might once have been a self-involved narcissist who didn't have a lot of respect for other people.

Not only is Mr. MacLean's story fascinating, but his prose is arresting and deeply affecting. Here's how he writes -- newly introspective and grateful -- about the human urge to help others: "In the chaos of this world, where we carom and collide in that everyday turbulence, there's something about the specific gravity of the helpless individual, the lost and the fractured, that draws kindness from us, like venom from a wound.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By atmj TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Maclean a budding writer on a grant in India suddenly wakes up at a train station with no ID. He has no idea of who he is. Rather than a secret agent story of uncovered clues and flashes of realization, he has completely lost who he was, even after his family and identity are known to him. He realizes he’s not that man any more.

I found this book fascinating on many levels. One as an entertaining read: David Maclean is a great writer and the book flows. Sometimes it flows from one psychotic incident to another and other times it is the day to day things that he stumbles on.

I found it interesting how he pieced together that his emotional state at the time of losing his memory was responsible for his feeling emotions of regret, shame and apologetic when he became aware that he had no idea who he was. He had no action to recall these emotions to, so was struggling to put an action to a reaction.

His discussion of emotions and how he perceived things in his less than sane states was very well done. He captures how he perceived different people and situations that makes you feel like you are right with him. Granted I’m sure this was pieced together by all sorts of notes over many years, but there is an immediacy to the way he writes about it.

It had to seem odd looking at pictures of your former self and to talk to people in many ways in the 3rd person. I often wonder if he felt envious of himself or less than who he used to be, a sort of peculiar jealousy. It seemed that way at times. He also seemed not to like the old him very much either. Funny how much your memory of past events affect how you act now. Erase those events, influences, you have less data to work on on how to act.

There were a few moments where I laughed out-loud.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By feemeister VINE VOICE on December 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is extremely disturbing. It was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting a book dealing with someone getting amnesia, and then trying to remember things he couldn't remember, and interacting with people from his life that he also could not remember. Instead, this book was on the very horrifying and disturbing things that happened to a man who was given the antimalarial drug Lariam. This was very hard for me to read about and even think about. It reminds me STRONGLY of the book Bitter Pills (by Stephen Fried), where his wife's life was devastated by the innocent taking of fluoroquinolones for a minor urinary tract infection.

The author was given Lariam in 2002, and it sounds like he is probably STILL having issues from this. I checked the latest on this drug, and it apparently now has a black box label. I don't understand why the FDA has not pulled this drug. According to the book, 25 percent of people use this drug have problems (though of course they downplay it by saying that not NEAR that many have SEVERE reactions). That sounds like an AWFULLY high percentage of people to have problems and keep this drug available. Apparently this was the drug related to the military base killings and suicides in Fort Benning years ago. I am really wondering if this could be one of the reasons behind all the present military suicides we have been having. I very strongly resent the military forcing drugs like this on people who are fighting for our country and our land. It is totally obscene.

This book was a very hard read. To see what all happened to this man who innocently took legally given drugs which pretty nearly destroyed and could have easily ended his life. Delusions, hallucinations, amnesia, illness.
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