International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Psychological Trauma and World Literature

Posted 1 December 2007 in StressPoints by ISTSS

In her first novel, “Year of Wonders,” Geraldine Brooks imagines life in an English village in 1665, during the time of the bubonic plague. The author has been a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, covering the tragedies of Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East. In the following passage the novel’s protagonist is returning from ministering to the afflicted.

“At days end when I leave the rectory for home, I prefer to walk through the orchard on the hill rather than go by the road and risk meeting people. After all we’ve been through together, it just not possible to pass with a polite, “Good night t’ye.” And yet I haven’t the strength for more. Sometimes, not often, the orchard can bring back better times to me. These memories of happiness are fleeting things, reflections in a stream, glimpses all broken for a second and then swept away in the current of grief that is our life now. I can’t say that I ever feel what it felt like then, when I was happy. But sometimes something will touch the place where that feeling was, a touch as slight and swift as the brush of a moth’s wing in the dark” (p. 6).

Brooks, G. (2001) "Year of Wonders." New York: Penguin.

Passages from literature can capture poignant truths about trauma and its survivors which might be difficult to glean from years of clinical or research work. ISTSS members are invited to share a favorite passage or quote from literature that may not be well known, but which offers insight about the psychological effects of trauma or paths of healing. Send submissions to Harold Kudler and Howard Lipke.