Summary and book reviews of Rescuing Patty Hearst by Virginia Holman

Rescuing Patty Hearst

Memories from a Decade Gone Mad

by Virginia Holman

Rescuing Patty Hearst
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2003, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2004, 256 pages

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Book Summary

A startling memoir of a daughter's harrowing sojourn in the prison of her mother's mind and a moving portrait of a young woman defined by her mother's illness -- until at last she rekindles a family love that had lost its way.

"1974 was a bad year to go crazy," Virginia Holman writes in this astonishing, beautiful, and painfully funny memoir of life with her schizophrenic mother in a disintegrating decade.

In May 1974, one year after Patty Hearst and her captors robbed Hibernia National Bank, a second kidnapping took place, far from the glare of the headlines. Virginia Holman's mother, in the thrall of her first psychotic episode, believed she'd been inducted into a secret army. On command of the voices in her head, she spirited her two daughters to the family cottage on the Virginia Peninsula, painted the windows black, and set up the house as a field hospital. They remained there for four years, waiting for a war that never came.

At first, it was easy to explain away her mother's symptoms in the context of the changing times -- her mother was viewed as "finding herself" in the spirit of the decade. When challenged about her delusion of the secret war, she invoked the name of Martha Mitchell. When she exhibited florid psychosis, her aunt, influenced by Hollywood's smash hit movie The Exorcist, seriously suggested that an exorcism might be in order. Even after she was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia in the early 1980s, Holman's mother retained just enough lucidity to appease caseworkers in a system seemingly more concerned with protecting a patient's rights than with halting the progress of a woman's desperately dangerous illness.

Rescuing Patty Hearst is an unflinching account of the dark days during which Holman's family was held hostage by her mother's delusions and the country was beset by the folly of the Watergate era. It is a startling memoir of a daughter's harrowing sojourn in the prison of her mother's mind. And, finally, it lingers as a moving portrait of a young woman defined by her mother's illness -- until at last she rekindles a family love that had lost its way.

Prologue

Nineteen seventy-four was a bad time to go crazy. The talk in our townhouse complex in Virginia Beach was of the Stockholm Syndrome, the Hearst kidnapping,

Watergate, and what the government had done to Martha Mitchell. "I had Viet Cong hold guns to my head, but I never proposed," spat one Navy man whenever talk turned to the young women in the Stockholm bank robbery who married their captors.

The story I stuck on was Patty's. That spring the famous photo of Patty Hearst appeared. Citizen Tania's image was everywhere, her fine soft face turned tough. The beret; her warrior stance; the way she held the butt of the carbine against her pelvis -- everything about her thrilled me. I studied the photos of Patty and Tania like reverse before and after pictures from a Mary Kay makeover. Was there any princess left in Tania's eyes? I secretly hoped she hadn't been brainwashed and that the kidnapping had been a fortunate excuse to abandon her rich-girl life. I imagined Tania ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What kind of impact do parents have on their children? Do you agree with the notion that the same sex parent of a child has a deeper impact? At what age are children most malleable in terms of the role-modeling of parents? How do these ideas pertain to the characters in the book?

  2. Do you think the main character will be able to grow into the woman she would want to be? How might the experiences with her mother affect her future relationships with both men and women?

  3. What is the message in the book concerning mental illness? Do you believe certain illnesses can be cured, or primarily managed? Have you had any close family members or friends affected by mental illness? If so, how has this touched your own ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Book Magazine - Susan Tekulve

This book is a heartbreaking testament of Holman's struggles to overcome a childhood lost to madness and grief.

Publisher's Weekly

Holman's gutsy prose bespeaks her survivor's backbone and hindsight.

Booklist - Vanessa Bush

Barricaded in the cottage, with the windows painted black, Holman struggles over the next three years with adolescent angst and her own unwillingness to believe that her mother is suffering a breakdown. This is a frightening look at the impact of mental instability upon family members and their struggle to acknowledge the illness in order to can get help.

Kirkus Reviews

No wonder the portion published last year as Homesickness in DoubleTake won a Pushcart Prize. Holman takes you into life with madness, and the extrication feels only partial. In a word, intense. (starred review)

Author Blurb Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors
Devastating, gorgeous, triumphant, and beautifully, beautifully written. This book is a somersault out of a dark and terrifying childhood.

Author Blurb Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls
Bravo to Virginia Holman for writing honestly and bravely of how illness can cripple an entire family. A testament to the power of love and the enduring human spirit, this brilliant memoir should be required reading for everybody.

Author Blurb Jill McCorkle, author of Crash Diet and Final Vinyl Days
This brilliant, frightening memoir deserves a literary shelf all its own. That Virginia Holman survived growing up in the care of a schizophrenic mother with her feet firmly planted and her heart in the right place is miraculous. She skillfully depicts mental illness at its cruelest, without judgment or anger, and ultimately with a lot of acceptance, love, and an endearing sense of humor.

Author Blurb Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy and The Solace of Leaving Early
Rescuing Patty Hearst is filled with potent images of family life, ghost children, refugees, secret armies. That it's a true story, and that Virginia Holman can write it now with such clarity and generosity, is astonishing.

Reader Reviews

Sharon

Rescuing Patty Hearst
Awesome, I can't believe there are others who have gone through and survived the madness put upon them by a parent, I understand. I wish I could talk to Virginia.

thoby155

Rescuing Patty Hearst by Virginia Holman.

Just finished reading this and it was incredible!

I could relate to Gingie, having grown up in a family of 9 with my mother an undiagnosted manic depressive. The story of the author's life shows just how ...   Read More

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