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The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia

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“Brilliant and painful and hilarious.” —Antonya Nelson On October 17, 2002, David MacLean “woke up” on a train platform in India with no idea who he was or why he was there. No money. No passport. No identity. Taken to a mental hospital by the police, MacLean then started to hallucinate so severely he had to be tied down. Soon he could remember song lyrics, but not his famil “Brilliant and painful and hilarious.” —Antonya Nelson On October 17, 2002, David MacLean “woke up” on a train platform in India with no idea who he was or why he was there. No money. No passport. No identity. Taken to a mental hospital by the police, MacLean then started to hallucinate so severely he had to be tied down. Soon he could remember song lyrics, but not his family, his friends, or the woman he was told he loved. All of these symptoms, it turned out, were the result of the commonly prescribed malarial medication he had been taking. Upon his return to the States, he struggled to piece together the fragments of his former life in a harrowing, absurd, and unforgettable journey back to himself. The Answer to the Riddle Is Me, drawn from David MacLean’s award-winning This American Life essay, is a deeply felt, closely researched, and intensely personal book. It asks every reader to confront the essential questions of our age: In our geographically and chemically fluid world, what makes me who I am? And how much can be stripped away before I become someone else entirely? 


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“Brilliant and painful and hilarious.” —Antonya Nelson On October 17, 2002, David MacLean “woke up” on a train platform in India with no idea who he was or why he was there. No money. No passport. No identity. Taken to a mental hospital by the police, MacLean then started to hallucinate so severely he had to be tied down. Soon he could remember song lyrics, but not his famil “Brilliant and painful and hilarious.” —Antonya Nelson On October 17, 2002, David MacLean “woke up” on a train platform in India with no idea who he was or why he was there. No money. No passport. No identity. Taken to a mental hospital by the police, MacLean then started to hallucinate so severely he had to be tied down. Soon he could remember song lyrics, but not his family, his friends, or the woman he was told he loved. All of these symptoms, it turned out, were the result of the commonly prescribed malarial medication he had been taking. Upon his return to the States, he struggled to piece together the fragments of his former life in a harrowing, absurd, and unforgettable journey back to himself. The Answer to the Riddle Is Me, drawn from David MacLean’s award-winning This American Life essay, is a deeply felt, closely researched, and intensely personal book. It asks every reader to confront the essential questions of our age: In our geographically and chemically fluid world, what makes me who I am? And how much can be stripped away before I become someone else entirely? 

30 review for The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alli

    The discussion notes that come with the review copy of this book point point out that "a memoir of amnesia" is a contradiction, and this is, in fact, David MacLean's memoir of recovering from amnesia. It could also be classified as an adventure tale, traveling through India, through mental illness and depression, through complicated relationships and through the many phases of identity. In all of that, MacLean does a great job of balancing difficult subject matter with humor and candor. He's hon The discussion notes that come with the review copy of this book point point out that "a memoir of amnesia" is a contradiction, and this is, in fact, David MacLean's memoir of recovering from amnesia. It could also be classified as an adventure tale, traveling through India, through mental illness and depression, through complicated relationships and through the many phases of identity. In all of that, MacLean does a great job of balancing difficult subject matter with humor and candor. He's honest and often funny, but not afraid to discuss suicidal thoughts and some pretty intense demons. The writing style is engaging -- short chapters give snapshots of the story and act (perhaps) as an example of the experience of sporadically-recovered memory. MacLean also is skilled at knowing what of the convoluted story to tell and what to leave out. Many memoirs get hung up on telling everything, as it happened, in a linear style. They get bogged down in detail. "The Answer to the Riddle is Me" is told with a light touch and moves along quickly. There are a few more academic sections on the development and use of the medicine Larium. They're pretty short, too, though might drag a bit for some readers. I've concluded that those sections are helpful for making sense of MacLean's illness. And since I took Larium myself in the '90s (no negative side effects other than headaches), it was interesting (and terrifying) to learn more about the drug. Overall, a strong book and a captivating read with a wider audience than the subject matter might initially suggest.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    I really enjoyed Mr. MacLean's essay about his struggle with amnesia on This American Life which is why I couldn't wait to read the book. Unfortunately I think the essay was the perfect length for this story. The book was overly long and way way too detailed. I really enjoyed Mr. MacLean's essay about his struggle with amnesia on This American Life which is why I couldn't wait to read the book. Unfortunately I think the essay was the perfect length for this story. The book was overly long and way way too detailed.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette (Now on StoryGraph)

    Proof positive that doctors and pharmaceutical companies are The Great Satan.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dov Zeller

    There were times I really appreciated what MacLean had to say and times I really didn't want to keep going with it. There were a lot of interesting and captivating moments, but it went from eloquent to whiny pretty often and pretty fast. The book was trying to do too many things at once, and wasn't doing any of them convincingly enough. It wasn't sure if it wanted to be an investigation into the dangers of Lariam, or a personal tale of memory-loss and psychological struggle after taking the drug There were times I really appreciated what MacLean had to say and times I really didn't want to keep going with it. There were a lot of interesting and captivating moments, but it went from eloquent to whiny pretty often and pretty fast. The book was trying to do too many things at once, and wasn't doing any of them convincingly enough. It wasn't sure if it wanted to be an investigation into the dangers of Lariam, or a personal tale of memory-loss and psychological struggle after taking the drug. Not that a book couldn't be both, but the way he traveled back and forth between tale of personal woe and facts about Lariam didn't quite make sense in terms of the tone and structure of the book. Really what this felt like is an essay, or a few different essays, forced into the form of a memoir. I think he could have easily made the personal story much shorter and gone further with the research into Lariam and written a much better book. I'm not sure if it would have worked as well going in the other direction (more personal history, less Larium). Here are a few small quotes I liked. There were more I'd post here if I'd written them down. "The kindness of a place to sleep." "It felt like a place burrowed deeper into the world."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Scary subject nailed in a scarily well-written book. Around page 243 McLean pulls off something extraordinary. He folds seamlessly into his narrative a précis of Alan Moore's powerful story about Superman called "For the Man Who Has Everything," and in so doing bridles a horse that would rather die than be ridden. An amnesiac writer undermines his work if it gets coherent, but after this beautiful authorial move the rest of the book feels coherent AND chaotic all at once. I wonder how many Ameri Scary subject nailed in a scarily well-written book. Around page 243 McLean pulls off something extraordinary. He folds seamlessly into his narrative a précis of Alan Moore's powerful story about Superman called "For the Man Who Has Everything," and in so doing bridles a horse that would rather die than be ridden. An amnesiac writer undermines his work if it gets coherent, but after this beautiful authorial move the rest of the book feels coherent AND chaotic all at once. I wonder how many Americans know what their government did with Lariam at Guatanamo Bay or that for years the Army poisoned its soldiers with this malarial prophylactic. Though this is a non-fiction work, it deals with character and the tricky subjective/objective oscillation that goes on in the human mind more like a novel - a very good novel. McLean is at pains to avoid pretending, and so he can be imaginative in ways that ring true to life as we live it, amnesiac or not. Very highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    A real-life horror story wherein a young man wakes up in India, entirely unable to remember anything about himself or his past. Eventually, we learn that the young man in question is David McLean, who was in India on a Fullbright scholarship and suffered from severe amnesia due to a side effect of an anti-malarial drug he was taking. In what ensues, serious questions are prompted about the precariousness of identity, and how fragile that thing we call our "self" is. It's an extraordinarily well-w A real-life horror story wherein a young man wakes up in India, entirely unable to remember anything about himself or his past. Eventually, we learn that the young man in question is David McLean, who was in India on a Fullbright scholarship and suffered from severe amnesia due to a side effect of an anti-malarial drug he was taking. In what ensues, serious questions are prompted about the precariousness of identity, and how fragile that thing we call our "self" is. It's an extraordinarily well-written memoir, by turns moving, terrifying, and thought-provoking.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    October 17, 2002: MacLean suddenly ‘wakes up’ at a train station in India. He isn’t carrying a passport; he has no idea who he is or why he’s there. Station staff presume he is just another hippie westerner on drugs, or mentally ill. Well, he was both – though not precisely. The Answer to the Riddle Is Me is MacLean’s quirky account of his temporary amnesia, triggered by anti-malarial drug Lariam. He’d been in India on a Fulbright fellowship, studying languages and planning an experimental novel. October 17, 2002: MacLean suddenly ‘wakes up’ at a train station in India. He isn’t carrying a passport; he has no idea who he is or why he’s there. Station staff presume he is just another hippie westerner on drugs, or mentally ill. Well, he was both – though not precisely. The Answer to the Riddle Is Me is MacLean’s quirky account of his temporary amnesia, triggered by anti-malarial drug Lariam. He’d been in India on a Fulbright fellowship, studying languages and planning an experimental novel. Like Su Meck (see below), he had to rebuild his entire identity, learning that he perhaps hadn’t been the most pleasant person: a flippant, deadbeat joker, the kind of person who attended Halloween parties dressed only in saran wrap and aluminum foil. (“You’ve always been unique,” his father said diplomatically. His mother was blunter: “My son, the equal-opportunity jackass.”) In other words, no one really took MacLean seriously. Yet that meant he could start from scratch, with no one expecting too much of him. Still, his kooky sense of humor is evident here, as in the unexpectedly hilarious scenes in an Indian mental hospital, where he hallucinates that Jim Henson is God and believes repeatedly cursing lentil pancakes – “F—k masala dosa” – will crack the riddle of existence. Bouncing back and forth between India, his family home in Ohio, college in New Mexico, and friends’ and girlfriends’ places in North Carolina and Goa, the memoir depicts, in astonishingly fresh language, a mosaic life as it starts to make sense. He also interweaves the fascinating history of malaria treatment, in sections echoing another great medical-mystery memoir, Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire. (I feature this book, along with Su Meck’s I Forgot to Remember, in my latest BookTrib article, on amnesia in recent books and films.)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ingrid

    Like many, I first heard MacLean's horrifying story of waking up on a train platform in India with no memory of who he was on This American Life. It stuck with me, so when the full-length memoir came out this year, reviewed favorably on the usual circuits, I selected it as a non-fiction pick for my library's book club. While it does raise interesting points for discussion (what makes you you? Is there some core in each individual that remains after memories and identity have been stripped away? Like many, I first heard MacLean's horrifying story of waking up on a train platform in India with no memory of who he was on This American Life. It stuck with me, so when the full-length memoir came out this year, reviewed favorably on the usual circuits, I selected it as a non-fiction pick for my library's book club. While it does raise interesting points for discussion (what makes you you? Is there some core in each individual that remains after memories and identity have been stripped away? is there truth to MacLean's assertion that memory is a "cultural construct, all of it preshaped by commerce"? and, most importantly: why were prisoners at Guantanamo Bay heavily dosed with the same malarial prophylaxis that sent MacLean into his years-long fugue state, effectively "pharmaceutically waterboarding" them?!), I found the narrator -- the narrator as he exists today, not as he existed before his bout with amnesia -- to be the kind of man you see at parties who gets obnoxiously drunk and stands on the coffee table yelling dumb things until everyone's can't help but pay attention to him. His pre-Lariam pranks seem cruel, and when a woman at a party bluntly tells him he doesn't respect women, I found myself psychically standing behind her, pumping my fist, and saying, "YEAH!" The frustrating thing about this memoir is that it relies heavily, narratively, on the idea that the author was an immature and selfish person, is wiped more or less completely clean, and struggles to rebuild his post-amnesiac self into a kinder, gentler, new man. But he still seems unlikable, as much post- as pre-, and I couldn't stop thinking of him like that jerky kid in high school who always had the best things, the new car, the summer vacations in Europe, and never even understood how spoiled he was. The facts of MacLean's ordeal are fascinating, but the memoir lacked any sort of soul. The reader learns all about the effects of Lariam, all about MacLean's cleverness, what it's like to drift in and out of lucidity in an Indian mental institution, but what do we come away with? The author has created an artful, polished diary, but fails to connect his experiences to anything larger than his own existence.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    I heard the author being interviewed on NPR and could hardly wait to get my hands on this book. I really enjoyed reading it. David MacLean had a Fulbright to go to India and study how native people spoke English for a novel he was writing. He intended to do a grammatical analysis of the other languages spoken by Indians and compare the grammatical structures they used in their native tongues to the grammatical structures they used when speaking English. Very intellectual. Unfortunatly, David too I heard the author being interviewed on NPR and could hardly wait to get my hands on this book. I really enjoyed reading it. David MacLean had a Fulbright to go to India and study how native people spoke English for a novel he was writing. He intended to do a grammatical analysis of the other languages spoken by Indians and compare the grammatical structures they used in their native tongues to the grammatical structures they used when speaking English. Very intellectual. Unfortunatly, David took Lariam which was prescribed to him to prevent malaria. He had a bad reaction to the medication and lost his memory and his mind. Imagine coming to on a train platform in a foreign country where you don't seem to speak the language and can't read signs and you have no idea who you are. That's David MacLean's book - that and his recovery from the symptoms. It is pretty horrifying but what is really horrifying is that it was known before David took Lariam that this was a possible side effect. Lariam has also been prescribed for American soldiers all over the world. Detainees at Guantanamo Bay have received massive doses of Lariam prior to being questioned in an effort to "soften them up" or not? MacLean says there is no malaria in Cuba so the medication is unnecessary. This was a crazy, chilling book - great for a book club that reads memoirs or nonfiction!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Shifrin

    I loved The Answer to the Riddle is Me: a Memoir of Amnesia by David Stuart MacLean. Right from chapter 1 I was engaged. Haven’t read a book this addictive in a while. Rather than reiterate the story, I just want to say that I really enjoyed MacLean’s description of his Larium nightmares, his ability to keep us in it all and still have perspective, and his humour in the midst of this nightmare - which sounds like it will be with him for the rest of his life. Having lived and travelled in India a I loved The Answer to the Riddle is Me: a Memoir of Amnesia by David Stuart MacLean. Right from chapter 1 I was engaged. Haven’t read a book this addictive in a while. Rather than reiterate the story, I just want to say that I really enjoyed MacLean’s description of his Larium nightmares, his ability to keep us in it all and still have perspective, and his humour in the midst of this nightmare - which sounds like it will be with him for the rest of his life. Having lived and travelled in India a lot, including the years he was there, I know how incredibly lucky he was to have been found by Rajesh/Josh (a Japanese colleague of mine woke up in an alley in Delhi completely stripped of all his ID and most of his clothing). I was relieved and happy for him during his roller-coaster recovery, and wish him all the good luck in the world for the future.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Antigone

    Of the myriad flavors of memoir available on the market today, the toughest for me to acquire a taste for has been the memoir of trauma. There's a reason for this. Trauma is a tricky business. A severely traumatized person is caught, like an insect in amber, within the traumatic event itself - doomed, without effective treatment, to re-live his nightmare over and over again until the experience of life becomes one unending plunge into a raw series of adrenalinized fight-or-flight responses. Under Of the myriad flavors of memoir available on the market today, the toughest for me to acquire a taste for has been the memoir of trauma. There's a reason for this. Trauma is a tricky business. A severely traumatized person is caught, like an insect in amber, within the traumatic event itself - doomed, without effective treatment, to re-live his nightmare over and over again until the experience of life becomes one unending plunge into a raw series of adrenalinized fight-or-flight responses. Under such dire emotional circumstances, the distinction between past, present and future - all sense of timeline - comes under attack. There is largely only Now, which is Then, which is what's about to happen; which is bad, very bad, and inescapable. It is this untreated (or insufficiently treated) individual who is often the author of the trauma memoir. Hence what one ends up with, as a reader, is a true story that cannot be told in a legitimately linear fashion. The author cannot travel, psychologically, from A to B to C. For him there is only B, more B, and even more B. What publishers find publishable about the trauma memoir is the heart-wrenching account of the traumatic event, and this can be provided with great expertise by the traumatized individual. After all, this is the moment he's been re-living to his detriment for several years now. He can describe that nightmarish incident to a tee. What he can't do is relay much of anything else, and that doesn't work as a best-selling book; a truth of which his editor is more than well aware. So nudges are dealt, sharp corners urged into rounding, a great many threads ostensibly tied off; a narrative path through this crisis is essentially fabricated to produce a viable commercial product. Which is false, of course, and unauthentic, and possibly inhumane. And to some of us it shows. To me, it shows. I offer this rather lengthy preface in order to direct your attention to a trauma memoir whose author (and editor) resisted that course. David Stuart MacLean has written an account of his experience with a case of amnesia caused by the ingestion of a standard anti-malarial medication - and while the amnesia gets its due, he also manages to relay the terrifying traumatic impact of "waking up" in the railway station of a foreign country with no idea where, when, how or who he was. The amnesia eventually began to recede. The trauma, however, held him hostage for years. Honest, engaging, harrowing, inconclusive; this story is all the more amazing for the manner in which it is told. And you're going to need an example of that. The last time I saw my shrink I made a point not to be smart or clever or knowledgeable about my condition. I wanted to show her that I could learn, that I was cooperative, that I was willing to try it her way. That I was reachable. I told her about my dreams. I told her about the banal-mares, in which I woke up as other people who were on the clock and waiting for their shifts to end. I told her about waking up as a convenience store worker and the chunk of me that was missing in that dream, and how it made me realize how crazy random it was not just that I was me (the billion sperm to one egg; the insane odds against all my ancestors ever meeting each other), but also how, with the millions of electrical pulses in the brain that were needed to fire every microsecond, it was incredibly random that I continued to be me. I yanked tissues from the box and pushed them into my eyes. I told her that I was tired of having my biggest fear be not being me. "You know, convenience store workers serve a very important function in the universe," the shrink said. "I know that," I said, thinking she was missing something. "People need gas. People need cigarettes." She leaned in close to me and said, "Convenience store workers are the reincarnated souls of people who died in the Holocaust. They need the mundane nature of those jobs to make sense of what happened to them in their previous lives." "Oh," I said. And just like that, I wasn't the craziest person in the room anymore. I highly recommend this memoir. It is very well done.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Max

    This is a really powerful book, but it isn't over the top and it didn't seem like David Stuart MacLean was trying too hard to make it one. He was simply telling his story. What he went through, however, and what he struggled with was something that, while rare in actual occurrence, speaks to a fundamental question that I think everyone struggles with answering. Who are we really? What defines the person that we are? Our experiences, or the perceptions that others have of us? Or maybe something e This is a really powerful book, but it isn't over the top and it didn't seem like David Stuart MacLean was trying too hard to make it one. He was simply telling his story. What he went through, however, and what he struggled with was something that, while rare in actual occurrence, speaks to a fundamental question that I think everyone struggles with answering. Who are we really? What defines the person that we are? Our experiences, or the perceptions that others have of us? Or maybe something entirely different. How much control do we have over the person that we are? The first entry will grab you immediately. You are with David, standing on a train platform in India, and you have no idea who he is or where he is at first. You just know you don't recognize the people around you, and you don't know your name. The way he chose to write this is so effective at accomplishing the concept that we are taking this journey with him, learning things as he learns them. It's gripping, and it will keep you reading. Once he establishes a basic understanding of his identity, he returns to life and starts trying to rebuild the person he was a mere two or three weeks before. But the task is far from simple, and it's fascinating to see how MacLean draws attention to the issue of what people do when they are mentally unprepared to face a world that is not going to stop and wait for them. I won't give too much else away because I loved the progression of the book, and I think it's important for you to follow along with it. By the end, I had definitely teared up once or twice, though, and I felt like I had a lot of self reflection that I needed to do for myself. This book will make you think, and it will break your heart a little bit, but it's hopeful as well. Basically, you need to read it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I found "The Answer to the Riddle is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia" by David Stuart MacLean both fascinating and terrifying. It was fascinating to be trust into the mind and experiences of someone struggling with amnesia. It was terrifying because his amnesia is most possibly linked to his taking of the Lariam. Lariam is a anti-malaria drug that was prescribed to the Ohio native before and during his trip to India to study under the Fulbright Foundation. MacLean weaves personal narrative and medical re I found "The Answer to the Riddle is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia" by David Stuart MacLean both fascinating and terrifying. It was fascinating to be trust into the mind and experiences of someone struggling with amnesia. It was terrifying because his amnesia is most possibly linked to his taking of the Lariam. Lariam is a anti-malaria drug that was prescribed to the Ohio native before and during his trip to India to study under the Fulbright Foundation. MacLean weaves personal narrative and medical research together detailing the moment he "woke up" completely baffled and not knowing who he was on a train platform in India to the recovery process which took him years. He discusses the history of the creation of the drug Lariam and particularly highlights its use in the US military both for soldiers and for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. It's always an interesting experience reading someone's autobiography or memoir because as the saying goes "hindsight is twenty-twenty". Reading as MacLean seemed to worsen his problems with excessive drinking was awkward. The last chapter of the book is a nice summing up as he discusses the fact "[he] assembled a working self out of the behavior of others" and that he "allowed the people who showed up to define me". I must admit I enjoyed reading this book; however, the disjointed nature of the subject made it a little more of a difficult read or at the very least required more undivided focus. I can see especially the last chapter as being a wonderful jumping off point for the discussion of what actually is identity.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Janet Pawelek

    Everybody has discussed in their reviews the basis of this book, so I won't belabor that. What really resonates with me are these things: Why is Lariam still allowed to be used as an anti-malarial drug? Why does the US government use it on every prisoner in Guantanamo? (Is MacLean's accusation of "chemical water boarding" correct?) Why is it routinely given to soldiers serving in areas where malaria is prevalent, even though there are drugs that would work that don't have the serious side effects t Everybody has discussed in their reviews the basis of this book, so I won't belabor that. What really resonates with me are these things: Why is Lariam still allowed to be used as an anti-malarial drug? Why does the US government use it on every prisoner in Guantanamo? (Is MacLean's accusation of "chemical water boarding" correct?) Why is it routinely given to soldiers serving in areas where malaria is prevalent, even though there are drugs that would work that don't have the serious side effects that Lariam has? My daughter-in-law went to India. Thank God that wasn't the drug she was prescribed, because evidently it's just luck. And, finally, who are we? Are we really just a composite of who other people think we are? Great book, lots to think about,

  15. 5 out of 5

    MaKensie Dodd

    This has definitely solidified my resolve to never try drugs. Though resulting from a malaria vaccine, his bad trip in the beginning is just frightening. He describes it so well I feel like I’m living it and you’re able to relate on the level of how random our brain can be with it’s process of imagery and nonsense connections. Like walking into a room and forgetting what you went in their for. Very informative in some areas like the history and battle against malaria though I often felt like it This has definitely solidified my resolve to never try drugs. Though resulting from a malaria vaccine, his bad trip in the beginning is just frightening. He describes it so well I feel like I’m living it and you’re able to relate on the level of how random our brain can be with it’s process of imagery and nonsense connections. Like walking into a room and forgetting what you went in their for. Very informative in some areas like the history and battle against malaria though I often felt like it was just overly detailed in SO many areas. It’s like a long rambling rant of an old man who just wants to reminisce and you can’t even tell what the “life lesson” is. You could take the beginning and the end of the book and that’s it. I was going to give it 3 stars but then by the end you realize the guys just kind of an asshole. He’s pretentious, doesn’t respect women and by the end still has very little redeeming qualities. I mean the guy goes through this life changing experience and can’t even come up with anything inspiring to write about.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Josie

    I really enjoyed this book. It did seem to sag in the middle a little as my interest waned but overall I loved the cringing honesty.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kristi

    Meh, just not my cup of tea. Nothing specifically wrong, just couldn't really get into it, something about the author's voice. Meh, just not my cup of tea. Nothing specifically wrong, just couldn't really get into it, something about the author's voice.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I think everyone who likes NF, should give this one a try, just for it's mind-blowing premise. I think everyone who likes NF, should give this one a try, just for it's mind-blowing premise.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    In 2002, David Stuart MacLean traveled to India as a Fulbright scholar. One day in October, he "woke up" on a train platform with no memory of who he is or why he's there. A security guard at the train station initially assumed that he was high and took him to what amounted to a halfway house. Eventually, when it became apparent that something else was going on, MacLean found himself in a psychiatric hospital convinced that Jim Henson is God (and that Henson/God really hates masala). It's eventu In 2002, David Stuart MacLean traveled to India as a Fulbright scholar. One day in October, he "woke up" on a train platform with no memory of who he is or why he's there. A security guard at the train station initially assumed that he was high and took him to what amounted to a halfway house. Eventually, when it became apparent that something else was going on, MacLean found himself in a psychiatric hospital convinced that Jim Henson is God (and that Henson/God really hates masala). It's eventually understood that MacLean's hallucinations and amnesia were the result of a bad reaction to Lariam, an antimalarial medication developed by the military in the 1970s and commonly used up until only very recently. MacLean originally shared his story on This American Life , and expanded his essay into this memoir, which charts not just the process of "waking up," but also his attempts to piece together his identity and the missing hours of his life that led him to the train platform on that day in October. He spends a few months recovering at home in Ohio. He has to go through the process of re-meeting old friends and his girlfriend, learning along the way that his history as a prankster has caused many to approach his story of amnesia with a healthy dose of skepticism. He eventually travels back to India to complete his Fulbright obligations, and he pieces together what he was doing and where he was headed that day on the train platform. His neighbors and colleagues in India help him piece together parts of his identity largely unknown to his friends and family back home in America. Like most anyone in the world, MacLean's personality has grown and changed as he's moved through different phases of his life. Trying to connect the David that his parents know to the David that his college friends know to the David that was trying to meet a woman in Goa on the day that he woke up is a fascinating and terrifying process. He's not always comfortable with the facts that he learns about himself, which ultimately complicates the already-complicated process of putting himself back together. Not surprisingly, this often reads a bit like a TAL essay. It's conversational and frank, blending MacLean's frustrating attempts to piece together the many iterations of himself into a single picture with a brief history of malaria medications and Lariam -- horrifying to anyone with any level of distrust in the pharmaceutical industry.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Kennedy

    On October 17, 2002, David MacLean woke up on a train platform in Hyderabad, India. He had no idea where he was or why he was there. Not only that, but he didn't even know WHO he was. Mr. MacLean hadn't been sleeping, doing drugs or drinking. He had been taking an anti-malarial medicine, Lariam (mefloquine). In time, he discovers he suffered a mental break and total amnesia as a result of taking that drug while living in India on a Fulbright scholarship. Through the proverbial kindness of stranger On October 17, 2002, David MacLean woke up on a train platform in Hyderabad, India. He had no idea where he was or why he was there. Not only that, but he didn't even know WHO he was. Mr. MacLean hadn't been sleeping, doing drugs or drinking. He had been taking an anti-malarial medicine, Lariam (mefloquine). In time, he discovers he suffered a mental break and total amnesia as a result of taking that drug while living in India on a Fulbright scholarship. Through the proverbial kindness of strangers, Mr. MacLean is passed along to a dizzying succession of good Samaritans, some with their own theories of his problem. "There, there," says a police officer at the train station. "You foreigners come to my country and do your drugs and get confused. It will be all right, my friend." And, eventually, it seems that everything is all right. It's eleven years down the road, and Mr. MacLean has written this eloquent account of his ordeal. But his recovery has been a long, agonizing one that has severed the person he used to be from the person he is now. Not only is Mr. MacLean's story fascinating, but his prose is arresting and deeply affecting. Here's how he writes -- newly introspective and grateful -- about the human urge to help others: "In the chaos of this world, where we carom and collide in that everyday turbulence, there's something about the specific gravity of the helpless individual, the lost and the fractured, that draws kindness from us, like venom from a wound." As for many writers, alcohol, prescription drugs and tobacco -- his impressive intake exhaustively chronicled -- may have exacerbated Mr. MacLean's confusion, terrors and paranoia and derailed his recovery. But what fun would that have been for the reader?!? I was hooked from the moment he wakes up in that train station, and I wish him well on all his life's journeys.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Here we go again with another book that starts out well enough, keeps your interest, and then deteriorates into one big annoying mess. The first few chapters were the most interesting. You read about this guy (the author) who "woke up" on a train platform in India not having any idea where he is, how he got there, or even who the heck he is. A police officer takes him to a mental hospital where he has these hallucinations. His symptoms are caused by the anti-malarial drug Lariam that he has take Here we go again with another book that starts out well enough, keeps your interest, and then deteriorates into one big annoying mess. The first few chapters were the most interesting. You read about this guy (the author) who "woke up" on a train platform in India not having any idea where he is, how he got there, or even who the heck he is. A police officer takes him to a mental hospital where he has these hallucinations. His symptoms are caused by the anti-malarial drug Lariam that he has taken. He goes back to the States to figure out what his life was like before. Sound intriguing? I thought so,too until I got further with the book. David Stuart MacLean is self-destructive. He's supposed to be recovering from the effects of Lariam and is taking narcotics to help him counteract these effects. But he's drinking an exorbitant amount of alcohol which is not recommended. He also has asthma and he smokes an excessive amount of cigarettes. This is written about ad nauseam. MacLean's writing is, at times, very good, but most times irritating. He uses way too many similes to "enhance" his prose. They're definitely not needed. You get the picture the first time you read the sentence. It's just endless filler. I should have stopped reading the book early on but I was curious to know what happened to him. Some of the reviewers wrote that it's a hilarious account and will make you laugh. I didn't crack a smile once. There's nothing funny here. Don't waste your time unless you enjoy reading about someone's bad habits.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    I liked this book a lot. I read it after reading the recent NYT review of it, and I find myself in agreement with the reviewer's take on the book. It reads like a detective novel, opening with his memory of becoming conscious in a train station in India without the foggiest idea of what he was doing there or who he was. The memoir takes the reader step by step with MacLean through the next harrowing days and months spent understanding and recovering from the extreme and terrifying hallucinations I liked this book a lot. I read it after reading the recent NYT review of it, and I find myself in agreement with the reviewer's take on the book. It reads like a detective novel, opening with his memory of becoming conscious in a train station in India without the foggiest idea of what he was doing there or who he was. The memoir takes the reader step by step with MacLean through the next harrowing days and months spent understanding and recovering from the extreme and terrifying hallucinations and virtually total amnesia he had in reaction to the malaria prophylactic drug Larium. The story is written in a straightforward, factual style that presents events without a lot of fuss. The research MacLean did about Larium is presented in easily understood and pertinent chunks. I especially liked the quotes he opens each new part of the book with. They are expressions from various sources of the interior experience of loss of identity, loss of control, loss of self, and fear. They serve to lodge MacLean's experience with other similar experiences and to put into words the profound feelings it triggered. I applaud his courage in chronicling what he went through -- I found myself recognizing aspects of the panic and fears he described as familiar to me, stemming not from Larium, but from other bewildering moments I have had in my life. I think other readers will be able to empathize in similar ways due to the honesty and expressive nature of his descriptions.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    What would happen if you suddenly woke up and were at a train station in a foreign country and had no idea of who you were or where you were? Apparently having amnesia isn't like it is in the soaps/. (Darn you One Life to Live and General Hospital, now where will I turn for medical advice?) MacLean begins relying on the kindness of strangers and begins piecing his life together, trying to figure out who he was and is. This story is told with humor and chronicles his struggles with life. His reli What would happen if you suddenly woke up and were at a train station in a foreign country and had no idea of who you were or where you were? Apparently having amnesia isn't like it is in the soaps/. (Darn you One Life to Live and General Hospital, now where will I turn for medical advice?) MacLean begins relying on the kindness of strangers and begins piecing his life together, trying to figure out who he was and is. This story is told with humor and chronicles his struggles with life. His relief at finding out he's not the craziest guy in the room (when he is in a session with his therapist), and research into Lariam will have you laughing at the absurdity of his situation and, raging against pharmaceutical companies. My takeaway? Finding out who you are from those around you will give you a skewed perspective and having malaria might be a better alternative.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I was tricked! From the NY Times review I expected the profound and witty insights of a writer into his own amnesia. Instead I got the psycho ramblings of a guy struggling with his own personal demons plus the side effects of a dangerous anti malarial drug. Page after page of hallucinations combined with descriptions of nonstop smoking and drinking made this repetitive and totally unpleasant. What person forced to share time with a drunk is grateful to witness the ramblings of the drinker? Save I was tricked! From the NY Times review I expected the profound and witty insights of a writer into his own amnesia. Instead I got the psycho ramblings of a guy struggling with his own personal demons plus the side effects of a dangerous anti malarial drug. Page after page of hallucinations combined with descriptions of nonstop smoking and drinking made this repetitive and totally unpleasant. What person forced to share time with a drunk is grateful to witness the ramblings of the drinker? Save yourself the time and money and avoid this book. Oh, one good thing I did take away from this -- don't take Lariam or prepare for a very bumpy ride.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Vallejo

    Man am I glad nothing crazy like this has ever happened to me. I can't imagine taking medicine to keep from getting sick and having it completely wipe your memory. Awful. It dragged a little for me, but I was still interested. Man am I glad nothing crazy like this has ever happened to me. I can't imagine taking medicine to keep from getting sick and having it completely wipe your memory. Awful. It dragged a little for me, but I was still interested.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Really interesting look at selfhood and the creation and knowledge of the self, in this case in the face of amnesia, hallucinations, anxiety, and depression.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    very damn good book

  28. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I will finish reading this once I figure out where my copy has disappeared to.

  29. 5 out of 5

    mary G

    this book just didn't do it for me. and i don't think it was personal. i read carefully and thoughtfully, and still felt that the intersection between the promises of this novel and deliverance did not intersect. the concept fascinated me: an account of a man experiencing complete amnesia. the title implies that the novel would deal with discoveries of the self absent from the memory of experiences. the summary of the book claims that questions of identity would be discussed. i wanted to know wh this book just didn't do it for me. and i don't think it was personal. i read carefully and thoughtfully, and still felt that the intersection between the promises of this novel and deliverance did not intersect. the concept fascinated me: an account of a man experiencing complete amnesia. the title implies that the novel would deal with discoveries of the self absent from the memory of experiences. the summary of the book claims that questions of identity would be discussed. i wanted to know what it meant to be a person- if without any memories one would fall into their own attitudes and habits based on pure nature. i proved to be disappointed. the book described, in almost excruciating detail, the events following the amnesic episode. our narrators daily life, his friend groups, his forgotten past: all discussed down to every dull detail. the reflection on or reappearance of old traits proved absent throughout. the simple answer could have been that you basically start from scratch. although apparently true and necessary to the understanding of the situation, i found all of the talk of our narrators' life to be increasingly depressing. an hidden animosity towards his past self underlaid all instances of photos, descriptions, or discussions. he made "stupid faces" in all the photos and disrespected his peers. and somehow no one notices that he doesn't do that intentionally anymore. complementing the disgust for the past of our narrator, the current situation of him proves equally disappointing. he essentially has become an indebted drunk who knows a lot about the drug that caused his memory loss. this is the point that truly turned me off of the book. instead of this becoming a book about identity, it became a hate letter to lariam, or whatever the malarial drug is called. he brings up stats on this drug and it's widespread terror countless times. the minor epidemic the drug caused fascinated me, but disappointed me in the context of this novel. if the book were advertised as an expose on the malaria killer, then i would have been inclined to appreciate the story exponentially more. one star because it wasn't what it was supposed to be.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura Floyd

    Hmm. I have super mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was absolutely fascinating to follow MacLean's journey through the world of amnesia - from the terrifying moment of becoming conscious without a clue who you are, through the process of reestablishing your grasp on reality and your place in it, and finally coming to grips with your identity in a world where you're never really sure if you are the person you're meant to be. Really interesting introspection and description of th Hmm. I have super mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was absolutely fascinating to follow MacLean's journey through the world of amnesia - from the terrifying moment of becoming conscious without a clue who you are, through the process of reestablishing your grasp on reality and your place in it, and finally coming to grips with your identity in a world where you're never really sure if you are the person you're meant to be. Really interesting introspection and description of these processes. On the other hand, I found myself very much disliking MacLean as a person (even when neither of us really knew who he even was as a person), which made it hard for me to feel the kind of empathy I suspect I was meant to feel for him. His struggles with anxiety and identity felt familiar, but the ways he reacted to them and interacted with the people around him were really off-putting to me. How did even his mother phrase it? "My son, the equal-opportunity jackass." What MacLean really succeeds at is bringing the reader into his mind, of opening the door so that we could see out of his eyes and feel what he felt as he struggled with his illness(es?): the frustration, the fear, the desperation. That these things came across so well is a great credit to the author, but also probably contributed somewhat to my lack of great enjoyment (who wants to spend their reading hours feeling all those things??) The resolution of the tale is satisfactory, though the title itself gives away much of what might otherwise have been a "ah-ha!" revelation at the end.

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