- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (March 10, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0544227700
- ISBN-13: 978-0544227705
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #757,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia Paperback – March 10, 2015
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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 --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
“If bad things are going to happen, we are lucky when they happen to someone with the wit, humanity and sweetness — to say nothing of an eye for detail and a gift for pacing — that MacLean brings to this wrenching tale . . . Readers who flip open the book will find MacLean, preserved between pages, goofy and serious, lost and found.” — Chicago Tribune
“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
“[MacLean] writes eloquently about the bizarre and disturbing experience of having his sense of self erased and then reconstructed from scratch.” — The New Yorker
“As harrowing as this territory is, MacLean makes an affable, sure-footed guide . . . Thanks to his raw, honest, and beautiful memoir, readers will already have a clear idea what his experience was like. We can be grateful MacLean has remembered so much, and so well.” — New York Times
“[A] vivid reflection on the ten years following the Lariam-induced break with reality and the memory problems that persisted in its wake . . . One author, a writer by trade, tells his story because it is a good one: dramatic and unique. The other tells a story, no less arresting, because she has a point to make. Both succeed impressively.” — New York Times Book Review
“Written in terse, vivid prose spiked with blackouts and violent hallucinations reminiscent of a Ken Kesey classic, MacLean’s story of the yearlong quest to regain his life reads like fiction, and reminds us that while memories may be painful, truth is all too often elusive.” — Mother Jones
“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.” — Seattle Times
“MacLean fearlessly explores his journey to the edge of madness and his subsequent return to sanity in an unsettling, sometimes riotous, memoir.” — Publishers Weekly
“Mesmerizing.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Riveting, sad, and funny . . . Both a sharply written autobiography and an insightful meditation on how much our memories define our identities.” — Booklist
“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, 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, author of Gone Girl
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Top Customer Reviews
This happened to him at a train station in India.
The Answer to the Riddle is Me is a memoir covering everything from when David lost his memory at that train station, to events years later when he finally started to get better. More than anything, the book is a tale of struggle and how hard it is to live with something as devastating as forgetting entire sections of your life for good. I can’t stress it enough- David didn’t know ANYTHING when he realized he didn’t know who or where he was. He had to go off of what people told him right then and there. Someone tells him he’s on drugs, which is why he’s freaking out in public, so he assumes he’s a drug addict. Someone tells him he’s gone crazy, so he assumes he’s crazy. Someone offers him cigarettes constantly, so he assumes he’s a smoker. This is all just in another country. When he gets back home, things aren’t any better. David has to learn about his girlfriend he had, another woman that he was flirting with and may have very well been together with while in India, his family and more, all from scratch. Seeing people doesn’t ring any bells, and when he looks at photos of people, he can’t tell if they’re relatives, friends or exes.
It doesn’t help that David also suffers from depression. This is something I had problems with from when I was 12, up until about 6 months ago, and I saw a lot of myself during these parts. Wanting to ask a simple question but not being able to for no reason…it’s so stupid but it’s a very real part of it for a lot of people. There come many times when David could simply ask the person he’s with “hey, what happened?” or “how do you know me?” but he doesn’t. He’s too scared because the him now isn’t who he was then. He used to do college radio, and listening to his old self on recordings, learned that he was a wise guy, and that he often pulled pranks on people or would just make things up. When David emails friends and colleagues about what happened, some of them think he’s making it up and respond to his message in their own would-be humorous way.
The book is made up of a lot of small chapters, most being two or three pages. It’s an easy read, and not hard to remember where you left off if you go a few days without reading it. The only problem I had is, and I feel almost insensitive when I say this given what he went through, there’s not much expression. The book has a very flat tone, even in some the more serious situations. There were parts that I could tell were supposed to be funny, but they weren’t written in a way that even made me smile. Don’t get me wrong- I felt horrible reading of the pain David experienced, but something was always off about the tone. I had to listen to David’s appearance on Duncan’s podcast in order to understand him a little better and see if he was a very serious guy or something else was going on. It turns out that he’s very lively and fun to listen to, but you wouldn’t think that here. I also have to agree with another reviewer who essentially said that the best parts of the book take place in India, first when David loses his memory, and then later on when he comes back. A lot of the stuff that takes place back home or when he moves to another state gets a little repetitive. But I can’t fault him or the book for that since this is how it happened.
Hopefully people who read the book will get something out of it. Be it a greater appreciation for memories and the people around them, or finding out about Lariam, and little things that you don’t hear on the news. Like how huge doses of it were given to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, despite them having no signs of malaria and not being in areas where they could have been exposed to it, just to break them down psychologically, making them easier to question/interrogate. This is a solid book worth reading, and won’t take long for most people to go through.
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."
And writing rules? They can go out the window. We're told not to start sentences with "There is" or "There was," but in Mr. MacLean's hands, this construction rocks. Sentence fragments? Who cares. The way he writes about his hallucinations and dreams is a total hoot. (God in the form of Jim Henson?!?) If you want a template for creative narrative nonfiction, this is your man.
As for many writers, alcohol, prescription drugs and tobacco -- his impressive intake exhaustively chronicled -- may have exacerbated Mr. MacLean's confusion, terrors and paranoia and derailed his recovery. That's a shame for Mr. MacLean, but what fun would it be for the reader if it hadn't?!? I was hooked from the moment he wakes up in that train station, and I wish him well on all his life's journeys.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First 1/3 to half was great. I was really hooked and started recommending to everyone around me.
The last 1/3 let me down though.Read more