Review: Blue Genes, by Christopher Lukas

The story of Christopher Lukas and his brother, award-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas, is a chronicle of mental health medicine’s evolution in the 20th century. Their family is struck again and again by bipolar disorder, a disease not yet understood or properly treated until late in the century. Unfortunately, the repercussions from misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment echo through the lives of these brothers with shattering immediacy, starting with the suicide of their mother when the boys were only eight and six years old. Through the years one after another family member succumbs to the disease, ending finally with the suicide of Tony, the story that begins the memoir. The tragedy is in the sheer magnitude of the toll it takes on the family, but Mr. Lukas tells it not only as a memorial to what the he and his brother went through, but as a testament to the fact that, despite it all, he survived.

After relating the account of his family’s origins beginning with his great-grandparents, Lukas chronicles the heartbreaking story of his mother’s death, and how the boys were immediately shipped off to boarding school with no explanation for their mother’s disappearance or chance to say good-bye. This forced delay of grieving was to influence and haunt both men throughout their lives, an added burden to their already confusing personal battles with depression and bipolar disorder. Sadly, in the end it proved a burden too heavy for Tony.

While interesting and thoroughly well-written, this book is a difficult read, mainly due to the pervasive sadness that permeates this family’s history. Mr. Lukas does an excellent job of conveying the struggle the boys underwent throughout their lives, but he pays scant attention to the good moments he has enjoyed through the years, flying by his wife and daughter’s impact on his health and well-being. Ultimately, Lukas triumphs in the story, but his victory seems almost Pyrrhic - a survivor alone, among the ashes.

19 September 2008


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