Books about coming back to the world?
August 16, 2010 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Book Recommendation Filter: Please recommend books about recovering from trauma and reintegrating back into normal life and society. Experiences like cults, prison, war, abusive relationships, etc. where the person feels isolated from "normal" people. I'm looking for fiction especially but any genre is helpful.
posted by Dilemma to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Joe Haldeman's 1968.
posted by Zed at 4:37 PM on August 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Children's War, by PN Stroyar (A terrific, often overlooked book. An alternate history of WWII. The main character is tortured and has to come to terms with it.)
Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman (Not fiction, but has wonderful examples and is beautifully written. A classic on trauma.)
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brian (A classic book of short stories by a Vietnam vet. Will make you shiver, laugh, and cry.)
Any of the writings of Admiral Jim Stockdale (popularized as the "Stockdale Paradox")
Reading Lolita in Tehran (has a character who was imprisoned in Iran after the revolution)
I'll think of more if I can!
posted by metametababe at 5:05 PM on August 16, 2010

Under the Banner of Heaven is a nonfiction about two brothers who believe they received a commandment from God to kill a woman and her daughter.
posted by Heretical at 5:07 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

a coupla cult offerings:

seductive poison by deborah layton
escape, by carolyn jessop
posted by lakersfan1222 at 5:12 PM on August 16, 2010

Stigma, by Erving Goffman (non-fiction)
posted by rhizome at 5:23 PM on August 16, 2010

Shameless self-promotion. I've written some on this: Lost Boy is the story of a young man raised in the same cult as Carolyn Jessop-- he was molested by his uncle, the cult's "prophet," when he was a child. I co-wrote this with the amazing Brent Jeffs. It tells his story-- before and after. Just out in paperback!

I also co-wrote The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, this one with leading child psychiatrist Bruce Perry, MD, PhD. This is a series of his cases-- including work with the Branch Davidian children and with a child raised in a kennel, who give the book its title-- looking at what we can learn about trauma and resilience from them.

My book Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids deals with the "tough love" residential treatment business, much of which is extremely cult-like and actually originated in the cult, Synanon. The book tells the stories of several children abused in these places and explores why victims of these places often say they were helpful when they weren't, using the research done on cults to explore how this kind of coercive persuasion works in this particular case.

All of these include intensely traumatic stuff so if you are easily triggered, be aware of that.
posted by Maias at 6:11 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Scandinavian mystery novels seem to deal with this issue a lot. Missing and Shame by Karin Alvtegen would fall into this category. They are both about women who are trying to recover from abusive, traumatic childhoods.

Stieg Larssen's Millenium Trilogy features a protagonist who is grappling with an abusive childhood/young adulthood.

[on preview: I will echo Maias' warning; the books I've mentioned contain graphic descriptions of trauma and abuse]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:16 PM on August 16, 2010

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb.
Persepolis 1 & 2 by Marjane Satrapi. Not traumatic in the traditional sense, but a strong theme of alienation runs through both volumes.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 6:19 PM on August 16, 2010

The English Patient.
posted by ovvl at 6:27 PM on August 16, 2010

push by sapphire, was made into the film "precious". really hard to get through but i think it matches your query
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:31 PM on August 16, 2010

Rupert Thomson's The Insult is one of my favorite books.

That said, I don't know how successful I'd say the protagonist is at reentering normal society.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 7:05 PM on August 16, 2010

"Empire of the Sun" by J.G. Ballard is technically fiction but a lot of the novel is based on his childhood. It's the story of a boy and his family surviving in a Japanese internment camp during WW2. This is a fantastic read, and does a brilliant job of describing the effects of prison camp life on a family unit.

"The Family" by Ed Sanders is a very thorough book about the Manson Family, with a lot of details of life during the culty years, and lots of follow-up about what happened to many of the people involved as time went on. (Non-fiction)

"Stolen Innocence" by Elissa Walls is an autobiography about growing up in one of the fundamentalist, offshoots of Mormonism that practices polygamy. A large portion of the book deals with her return to living in mainstream society. (Non-fiction)

"You Can't Win" by Jack Black. This is the autobiographical story of Black, who spent most of his early life (at the end of the 19th/beginning 2oth century) living outside of "straight" society as a thief, burglar, pick pocket, hobo and drug addict. He takes special care in his writing to constantly point out the differences between "straight" and "outlaw societies" as well as people with a code of honor "Johnsons" and those without. It's a blast to read, and the slang he uses in his writing is a great study in how members of fringe groups bond with each other through language. (Non-fiction, but black is definitely prone to some wild exaggerations)

I'll also second "Under the Banner of Heaven" suggested above by Heretical as an interesting look at cult life, and the fall out and effects of living in that environment.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 7:47 PM on August 16, 2010

Some Kind of Hero was made into pretty forgettable Richard Pryor movie, but the book was very good, about a couple of Vietnam POWs and how they bonded to survive the camp, and make plans for their return to the States.

Re: Empire of the Sun, the follow-up The Kindness of Women continues Ballard's reintegration into regular life after the war. Ballard's an interesting writer -- the internment obviously had a profound impact on him and his art, but by all accounts he led a very normal existence, raising a couple kids in the suburbs, all the while writing some very strange fiction. (Empire & Kindness are among his most 'normal' works.)
posted by Bron at 8:35 PM on August 16, 2010

There are some outstanding books about former 'Lost Boys' of Sudan, mostly boys who were out watching cows in southern Sudan when northern Sudanese/Arab soldiers came through and burnt their villages and killed most of the people in them. This was part of the Sudanese Civil War.

The most famous account is fictionalized: What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, by Dave Eggers. This is a brutal and beautiful story, truly one of the best books I have ever read.

The Wikipedia entry I linked to lists other books, films, and music. Notably, They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky is excellent, as is the music of Emmanuel Jal.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:33 PM on August 16, 2010

Jonathan Harford already mentioned Rupert Thomson but I'd suggest The Book Of Revelation is an even better example than The Insult. In the first half of the novel the protagonist is abducted and tortured (at random, for no reason) and then spend the second half of the book coming to terms with this.
posted by ninebelow at 2:48 AM on August 17, 2010

Mercedes Lackey has created an industry with her Valdemar books based on teens who are abused by their families and saved by magical animals to become well-integrated heroes. I'm sounding flip here, but they really are very encouraging and empowering light reading.

The Honor Harrington series has a sub-plot that plays out over a number of books about an attempted rape, her recovery from it, the results of not reporting it and how she eventually sorts the rapist.

Nicola Griffith's mysteries (The Blue Place, Stay and Always) have a main character who has been traumatized and gradually comes back to the world, in fits and starts, with set backs, over the series. These, unlike the previous two, may trigger some people.
posted by QIbHom at 6:40 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I Am David by Ann Holm is a childrens' book about a boy who escapes from a concentration camp.

Tim Guest's My Life in Orange is a non-fiction account of growing up in a cult.

Stuart: A Life Backwards is about a homeless man who is trying to integrate into mainstream society after a lifetime of substance abuse and imprisonment. Erwin James also wrote a series of columns for The Guardian about being a life prisoner, and then about release.

Also! Karen Armstrong's The Spiral Staircase and the follow-up book detail her experiences as a nun who left orders and returned to secular life - first as a student then as a full-time layperson.
posted by mippy at 8:53 AM on August 17, 2010

I'm currently reading Blame, by Michelle Huneven. It's about a woman coping with life after prison (and the crime that put her in prison). I haven't made it to the end yet, so I don't know if I'll be disappointed or not, but the first 75% of the book has been very good.
posted by Maarika at 12:17 PM on August 17, 2010

Maus (1 and 2), by Art Spiegelman, is both about a father's experience living through the holocaust, and his son's experience in living with a holocaust-survivor father... different kinds of relationship to historical trauma, both very well worked-out in the books...
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 12:45 PM on August 17, 2010

Seconding She's Come Undone, although most of the book is trauma - the reintegration comes way at the end. Wally Lamb's second novel, I Know This Much Is True, is more about the aftermath of trauma.

Sophie's Choice is about a woman's inability to reintigrate, post-trauma. To Life is a memoir by a Holocaust victim about her life after being liberated from a concentration camp. It's written for a YA audience, but it's stayed with me in the 20 years since I read it.
posted by lunasol at 3:50 PM on August 17, 2010

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