In brief: Admissions; Mind on Fire; American Histories – reviews

The second memoir from neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, a personal history of depression and a fiery letter to Donald Trump from black America

Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery Henry Marsh
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £8.99, pp271 (paperback)

The follow-up to his first, sensational memoir, Do No Harm, this second instalment of life on the frontlines of brain surgery sees the neurosurgeon retiring from the NHS and leaving Britain to work in hospitals in Nepal and Ukraine under difficult conditions. His stories include the heartbreaking case of a mother who kills herself after her baby dies, but there are happy endings too. Marsh shuttles back and forth, from his early days as a medical student to the last chapter, where he reflects on his own beliefs about mortality. Despite the human suffering, it is all heroic, strangely uplifting stuff.

Mind on Fire: A Memoir of Madness and Recovery
Arnold Thomas Fanning
Penguin Ireland, £14.99, pp275

Arnold Thomas Fanning is a respected Irish playwright, but for a period of his life he was homeless, living on the park benches and street corners of London, suffering from acute episodes of depression and mania. The first major bout came after his mother died of cancer when he was 20, and returned with a vengeance in his mid-20s, leaving him hospitalised. This is an extraordinary memoir about how it feels to be depressed, delusional, desperate – Fanning dramatises how he felt in the midst of mental turmoil rather than reflecting back in wellness. An arresting book that tells us as much about how we treat mentally ill people in Britain and Ireland as about how much of an “anti-life” depression can feel from the inside.

American Histories
John Edgar Wideman
Canongate, £15.99, pp226

John Edgar Wideman begins this collection of short stories with an uncompromising letter to the president, written on behalf of black America, telling him that “slavery as a social condition did not disappear” with its abolition. Skin colour, he states, “continues to separate some of us”. Wideman is a writer who excels at dramatising African American sensibilities and this collection typically addresses issues of race, injustice and inequality with power and potency. Crystallised moments of experience carry entire worlds in stories such as Maps and Ledgers, in which a black school teacher is told that his father has committed murdered a man, and Dark Matter, which recounts conversations diners have eating out, from the whimsical to the political. This is published alongside Wideman’s earlier novels and is a gem for anyone yet to discover his work.

To order Admissions for £7.64, Mind on Fire for £12.74, or American Histories for £13.59 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

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