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History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life Hardcover – February 15, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The unexpected loss of a sibling is always shattering, but when suicide is the cause, grief is rendered more complicated and haunting. The death of novelist, poet, and editor Bialosky�s much younger sister, Kim, at age 21 in 1990 was one grim loss among many. Bialosky was 2 when her father died; Kim�s father and Bialosky�s stepfather abandoned the family when Kim was 3. Their mother suffered chronic depression, and Kim was both neglected and abused. The trauma of Kim�s suicide was compounded by Bialosky�s loss of two babies at birth. When her and her husband�s adopted son reached adolescence, Bialosky realized she had to confront the wrenching facts and persistent mysteries of Kim�s life and death. The result is a strikingly lucid, smart, and elegant investigative family history grounded in research into the act of self-annihilation and illuminated by literary forays. Bialosky�s mantra is The more I know, the more I can bear. Her courageous anatomy of family secrets and tragedies, pain and guilt provides extraordinarily valiant and resonant testimony to the healing powers of truth and empathy. --Donna Seaman


“Valiant and eloquent…Bialosky’s thoughtful book elucidates the complexity of suicide.” ­­­­
Washington Post Book World

“A searing elegy…this memoir reads like butter and cuts like a knife.”
People (4 star review)

"A tender, absorbing, and deeply moving memoir...[Bialosky] writes so gracefully and bravely that what you're left with in the end is an overwhelming sense of love."
Entertainment Weekly

“Extraordinarily useful...a source of solace and understanding…. [Bialosky’s] hand is always skillful, as attentive to the rhythms of storytelling as to conveying emotion.”

“A profound and lyrical investigation…Bialosky writes sensitively and beautifully.” ­­­­
New York Magazine

“Brave and beautifully crafted.”
The Daily Beast

"An extraordinarily valiant and resonant testimony to the healing powers of truth and empathy.”

“A beautifully composed, deeply reflective work.”
Publishers Weekly

“In quietly piercing language, [Bialosky] delivers a sure sense of a 'beautiful girl' who took her own life at age 21 and of what it means to grieve such a death, burdened with an awful sense of responsibility that can’t easily be shared with others.”
Library Journal

“This is the kind of book that can teach us—all of us—about what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being. A book, in other words, that will teach you how to live.”
—Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

“The plain language of Bialosky’s title reflects this book’s quiet, intimate and profoundly understated art: a clear medium penetrating into the wounded and wounding mystery of her subject.”
—Robert Pinsky, former United States Poet Laureate

“That rare book that is so articulate and stunningly close to the bone that one holds one’s breath while reading it. . . . Written with a poet’s eye and a novelist’s gift, History of a Suicide is remarkable for its author’s bravery, candor and ability to tolerate the intolerable.”
—A.M. Homes, author of This Book Will Save Your Life

“Jill Bialosky has written an extraordinary book, which brings her sister Kim to life and also serves as a practical road map to understanding why life can become unbearable for someone who seems extravagantly gifted. Readers will find solace and clarity in this wonderful book.”
—Susan Cheever, author of Home Before Dark

“Beautiful and incredibly brave. . . . Jill Bialosky has stared straight into the white hot heart of something very-nearly unspeakable and in doing so, has illuminated it—both for herself, and for ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I caught my breath, how many times I cried.”
—Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion

“Jill Bialosky is such a fearless and clear-eyed and compassionate writer that although we know from the start how the story she tells will turn out, we cannot stop reading. By bringing her sister so vividly to life on these pages, she performs a great service. As much as anything else I've read, this book dispels the comforting and pernicious myth by which we keep the subject at a distance: that suicide happens only in other people’s families.”
—George Howe Colt, author of November of the Soul

“Like a match in the darkness, Jill Bialosky’s stirring memoir sheds light on a fathomless mystery. This intimate, brave book is a testament to the redeeming power of love, memory, and art.”
—Melanie Thernstrom, author of The Pain Chronicles

“Could things have been different? That is the inevitable, haunting question after a suicide. It can never be answered, only explored; and Jill Bialosky explores it with intelligence, integrity, a poet’s sensitivity, and a sister’s enduring love.”
—Joan Wickersham, author of The Suicide Index

“Better than anything on the shelf on the subject today, this powerful, honest, deeply personal testimony opens a conversation that is long overdue and restores the loving remembrance of those dead by their own hand to the place it deserves among the living. It honors a darling sister’s struggle and her memory at the same time it bears witness to the odyssey of grief Bialosky and her family endured. This willingness to play in the deep end of the existential pool is so rare a gift: that Bialosky juxtaposes the chronicle of Kim’s death with the challenges of becoming a mother is the stuff of metaphor and narrative we more often find in poetry. It is brave, ambitious and entirely accomplished.”
—Thomas Lynch, National Book Award finalist and author of The Undertaking

“By turns a mystery story, a psychological profile, a memoir, a literary and social critique, Bialosky writes about despair with such elegance and perspicacity that the reader, paradoxically, is returned to hope, page after gleaming page.”
—Lauren Slater, author of Prozac Diary

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (February 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439101930
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439101933
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jill Bialosky mentions in this book that she would like to provide a legacy for her sister, Kim, and she delivers in this exploration of the most difficult question we face when we lose young people whom we love: WHY? The story is narrative that flips back and forth through time and employs Kim's diaries and compositions to examine how Kim came to the irrevocable decision to take her own life in 1990 at the age of 21.

The writing in this book comes straight from the author's heart. She elaborates on how her sister's suicide forever changed their entire family and how she herself has managed, with varying degrees of success, to keep her survivor's guilt at bay. Bialosky also discusses some of the additional heart-wrenching losses that she suffered after her sister died and how they have impacted her as a mother and wife. She also employs literature (Plath, Melville) and scientific examinations of suicide to help her relate with human beings through history who have given this area a great deal of thought. I will be honest and say that I found the entire book to be terribly difficult to read due its searing emotional content. I am very lucky in that I have not suffered a loss like Bialosky has. I am not sure I would be able to cope and survive as she has.

Because I have not experienced something like this, I find it difficult to guess how those who have would react to this book, and I leave that to other reviewers who have been through it. But to a reader who has not been directly affected, this book explores a lot about human nature, psychology, and survivorship to make it well worth a read. Just keep a box of tissue nearby, and be prepared for some deep introspection.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read almost all of the previous reviews. I felt the the book, despite some of the criticisms disnissing it as only a drugged-up disaster, is a distinct contribution to personal accounts of a family member's suicide, with brief references to a great deal of research. The technical and emotional quality of the writing itself is worthy of commendation. As a clinician who has been a psychiatirst for the past 60 years, I found it also a challenge to "solve" the mystery of "Why?" This is never a simple solution or answer, but I agree with Dr. Shneidman that the severely dysfunctional relationship between the suicidal young woman and her father was a strong and major factor. Of course the drug use was also a heavy contribution, and the relationship to the father-like self-destructive boyfriend all played a part, along with many other factors.
There are many more comments that I could make, but I believe this book could help many family members in similar situations as the author was in.
I give it at least 5 stars. A second reading in January of 2013 moves me to add a few new thoughts, as well as a high ratign for its depth and passion. I believe that suicide often defies conventional psychiatric speculations,e especially when looked at with regard to age levels, such as late adolescent or young adulthood in one case or in old age in another. 85% of depressed people do not commit suicide. There is much more to suicide then a state of depression. Pewrhaps a further reading will bring more coomments.
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Format: Hardcover
As a sibling-loss survivor, I have spent years looking for memoirs that address the particular type of grief we endure. There haven't been many. Jill Bialosky has written a beautiful, powerful memoir of sibling loss that I hope all survivors will read. I loved this book. Jill shares with us the story of her beloved sister, her death, and the long search to discover why events happened the way they did. Jill is so honest, so open, and unsparing in describing her experience of loss and grief. I embraced this book for the honesty within it. What sibling-loss survivor who lives with questions hasn't wanted to search for the truth? Jill has undertaken this task in "History of A Suicide" and I applaud her bravery and thank her for sharing her grief journey with us. Truly, a must read for all sibling-loss survivors.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a long time admirer of Jill Bialosky's poetry, I was intrigued to learn she'd written a memoir on her sister's suicide. Having just had a close family member survive an extremely serious suicide attempt, I had to read this.

Knowing Bialosky to be an academic, I was not surprised to learn she searched through literary texts as well as current research in a search for an answer the eternal question Why? Anyone who has experienced a loved one's suicide or attempted suicide is simply haunted by this question. Having dealt too often in my life with suicide and attempts by family members and friends, I found Bialosky's final conclusion on the question of why to be the only one possible in far too many cases: some wander away and never make it back.

I believe the book would have been better if most of the poetry and literary quotations had been left out. However, I did like the somewhat journal-like style of the book as I think it's the only way a person in pain can really write about the subject she's written about here.

What I can't believe is that this book would have PR placement in entertainment magazines of any type. This is not a misery memoir, nor is it just a book about another drug abuser crashing and dying. This is an extremely well written, literary, heartfelt attempt to understand why her sister killed herself and what is told about her sister was enough for me to gain an understanding of who she was. No, the book isn't really ultimately about the suicide victim as much as it is about the author's efforts and struggles to understand, so I think maybe a different title would've better served readers in their decisions to read the book or not.

I don't mean to go against the grain with my review.
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