Title: Life in the Shadows: A Story of Resilience
Author: Kathleen Geuder Martin
Reviewed by: Victoria Lynn Smith
Published: June 10, 2023
Publisher: Pinecone Book Company
Length: 149 Pages
In her touching memoir, Life in the Shadows: A Story of Resilience, Kathleen Geuder Martin tells the story of growing up with her father, William Geuder, who, after a violent breakdown in 1947, is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Complicating matters, William is also an alcoholic. Faced with fear, uncertainty, and embarrassment, Martin, her siblings, and her mother – with the love of one another and their extended family – find ways to cope with the unpredictability of William’s schizophrenia and alcoholism. Martin’s dynamic prose and adroit storytelling pull us into her childhood, compelling us to turn the pages and learn how she and her family will emerge from the tragedy that has enveloped them.
Martin’s book begins as she looks back on her father’s first paranoid schizophrenic breakdown when she was seven: “. . . calamity blew in our back door, sucking tranquility out the windows.” Martin’s expressive writing captivates us, making it clear that nothing will be the same in the Geuder home. Throughout her memoir, she breathes life into her story with well-crafted scenes and dialogue. The people in her story also come to life, and she takes care to be fair and objective about those people, including her father. One of the strengths of Martin’s memoir is her honesty about her feelings toward her father, a man whose talents and strengths she acknowledges, even as he causes heartache for his family. As a child she both loves and hates him and admits she often blames him for his inability to control his behavior. She is honest about the shame, embarrassment, and stress involved in hiding William’s mental illness from friends and neighbors. She is honest about her anger as she mourns the loss of having a normal father.
Martin’s memoir is an important book because while society has progressed in its understanding of and compassion toward people who struggle with mental health, we have a long way to go. Martin came of age during the 1950s, a time when people didn’t talk about mental illness. They were too humiliated and feared being shunned. Today many people still feel the shame and isolation associated with mental illness. Martin’s memoir helps readers understand the emotions and difficulties of the people who have mental health issues and the people who love them.
Readers who have lived through experiences like Martin’s will find comfort in knowing that someone else has felt the way they do when dealing with a family member who faces mental health issues. And readers who haven’t been touched by these issues will gain awareness of the problems faced by those who have. Life in the Shadows is a poignant story that builds bridges of understanding.
Wisconsin Writers Association
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