Top positive review
Seeing through the veil
12 February 2018
There are three qualities that make a memoir memorable. First, it must have a good story to tell. Secondly, it must be well told. Thirdly, it has to be an honest account. So far as the third of these is concerned, we will not know if Yalom had not been truthful; but reading it, there is nothing that suggests that he had misrepresented anything, nor was there any obvious attempt to withhold some crucial part. Hence, judging it by the first two criteria, it is possible to award this book less than five stars only if one is disdainful of psychiatry in general, and psycho-analysis in particular. But, I think that even so, if one has the patience to read through, one might become a convert.
Yalom tells his life story, from the memories of his childhood, to his reflections on growing old - he's now 85. He laced his accounts with attempts to analyse himself, sharing his personal analysis with the world, inviting each of his readers to do the same with their lives; and importantly, guiding them, teaching them, just how to do so. He has incredible stories and analysis. One of my favourites is his account of his meeting with Victor Frankl, the author of 'The Meaning of Life'. Yalom had reached out to him seeking help with his own, growing anxieties, only to find Frankl to be an ego maniac. Years later, reading and thinking about Frankl again, Yalom realised Frankl's true greatness.
The themes underlying this book are memory and its recollection; the distortion of what comes through when we recall past events; the types of psychiatric techniques and an assessment of how they function; and finally, the influence of Marilyn (Yalom's wife), literature, and existentialism (in that order) on Yalom's life. The most important subject of the book, perhaps, is death, and how we can deal with its inevitability. His reflections and study of death cuts across all the three broad themes.
After having enjoyed the book, I listened to the audio cd version read by Peter Berkrot, and found hints of egoism in the book that I had only sensed lightly when I read the book. Perhaps it could be the tone and manner of Berkrot’s reading. There are too many instances in which a less excited and self-satisfying tone may not have the effect of a self-conscious speaker. Perhaps Berkrot’s style might be suitable for a biography. Should he have been more conscious of the fact that he was reading an autobiography – that he was speaking as Dr Yalom, and not about Dr Yalom; but this does not detract from the five-star quality of the book
Yalom says that Roth's book, 'The Radetsky March' is the one book he will keep forever on his shelf as one that he will read over and over again. 'Becoming Myself' may itself become our Radetsky March