book review

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney

51emoQ2iSAL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I believe that reality is always better than fiction in truth of events and artifacts that accompany the stories. Besides, if such story chimes the bell of my emotion even in the faintest decibel, I dive into it. In this regard, this book was a sure thing to read about people who were inflicted with “sacred disease” -as termed by Hippocrates – how they got there and what they were really like as individuals with dreams, memories, hopes, and wishes.

One of the suitcases found in Willard Psychiatric Center courtesy of

Hundreds of derelict suitcases came into light when Willard Psychiatric Center in upstate New York were closed in 1995, ending its century long history of a public mental institution. Each suitcase has a story to tell with pictures, bus/train tickets, diaries, letters, and even teacups contained herein. In the eyes of the author, it was like the fateful revelation of the outcry of the people who had come to live in the hospital. What I have found in reading this book is that many of the patients do not seem mad or needful of being institutionalized. Many of them suffer from loneliness, abandonment, and ill treatments from others. To my consternation, if a spouse or a family member was regarded irksome, bothersome, and troublesome, a ticket to the lifelong institualization was a sine qua non solution to get rid of the person forthwith.

A truly powerful testimony to the dignity of the people who found themselves on the edges of society, The Lives They Left Behind is comprised of heart-wrenching accounts of those whose lives were immortalized in the artifacts they forgot to claim ever more; that there is only a thin layer of difference between those within and without gives rise to requisite re-examination of what constitutes normalcy of behaviors as “socially and culturally” accepted because in one way or another we all carry a certain degree of “madness” within -for better or worse.


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