STALKING IRISH MADNESS: SEARCHING FOR THE ROOTS OF MY FAMILY'S SCHIZOPHRENIA, by Patrick Tracey, Bantam, 273 pages, $24.
This book is a thorough attempt by a journalist who grew up in the "shadow of schizophrenia" to trace what he calls "a savage psychosis to which there is no cure or effective treatment." Yet the disease was evident from his mother's side, through a great-great-great-grandmother, a grandmother and an uncle who all suffered from it.
He found that his ancestors fled from the Great Famine in Ireland to Boston in 1847. Then two of his four sisters developed the illness during their young adulthood, inspiring Tracey to track it more conclusively.
One of his biggest challenges was to sort out the truth from superstition in the various accounts that are legendary to Irish madness. Tracey spent 18 weeks traveling in a renovated camper through Ireland, trying to find medical answers to his ancestry.
His research caused him to suspect that there were many factors to take into account such as famine, substance abuse, the hardships of immigration, and a familiar pattern of older men marrying younger women in
The author visited the asylum where many of his ancestors may have lived while they were suffering with the disease. He even met the Irish research team that cracked the schizophrenic gene code.
Tracey points out that schizophrenia is still considered the most severe form of mental illness and that "its victims are typically tortured by voices and other hallucinations that give rise to bizarre and demented behavior."
One of the author's examples is Dr. David Copolov, an Australian mental health researcher, who hears voices but says that his temporal lobes are more active, and who is to say that the voices are not real?
Once Tracey reached Galway Road on the way to Roscommon, the alleged origin of his ancestral Irish madness, he sees it as a veritable Irish dream, a fairy-tale place of beauty. But it is near here that the 15th annual conference of Schizophrenia Ireland will be held.
After his research concludes, the author returns and tells people he has "been dabbling in madness."Although Tracey never did resolve his ancestral line completely, he discovered that his family suffers from many things besides schizophrenia (such as bleeding ulcers, asthma, pneumonia and malnutrition), even if many of those illnesses are triggered by the fear that schizophrenia will strike the rest of them. In many ways, this is a psychological study of the damage done by fear that disease will infest a family and destroy it.