Tuesday, September 23, 2008

a review of "Blue Genes"

Blue Genes - A Memoir of Loss and Survival by Christopher Lukas

To the world, the Lukas brothers appeared successful and accomplished. Older brother Tony was a Harvard graduate, a NY Times journalist, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. The author Christopher, or Kit as he is know, is an actor, author, Emmy award winning TV producer, husband and father.
But when Kit received that call one night that his brother had killed himself, while terribly upset, he was hardly surprised. It appeared to be just one more example of a terrible family legacy of mental illness, depression and suicide.

Their mother cut her own throat when they were just boys, they watched their father decline into alcoholism, and their grandmother, their aunt and their uncle all died at their own hands. “Blue Genes” is an attempt by Mr. Lukas to come to some sort of understanding of his family's history and especially to come to terms with his brother's death.

From the times they were boys, Tony appeared to take after their mother. Beautiful and accomplished, financially secure even through the Depression, their mother was haunted by her own demons, often not there for her children, either emotionally or even physically. And like her, Tony appeared always on the edge of his own darkness. In a letter, when they were boys, their grandmother wrote

“Kit is Master Sunshine as usual, easing his way into everyone's heart.”

The author then writes...
“'Master Sunshine!' While Tony was what- 'Master Gloom?' That was the difference people saw between us....If so , Master Sunshine I remained- to the outside viewer. Inside was a different story.”

Because to this day, the family legacy never seems far from the author himself.
“What is remarkable is- despite the killer thoughts- how much Tony accomplished during his life. He was a prodigious writer, an acclaimed journalist. A creative person.
But it was still not enough.
I am sure that I never answered the question of why Tony killed himself to the satisfaction of my interlocutors. It was almost impossible to do so.
There is a parallel question that I have been more successful answering: why I have not killed myself....
For I too have blue genes. I, too, have a voracious wish for “more.” The question then becomes: If Tony was only a latest in a long line of family members who killed themselves, will I be next?....
Still with full confidence, I know that I will never go into a room at the end of the day and kill myself. Too many deaths in my family, too many suicides. I will not follow suit.”

The problem is, we are not really given the evidence in this book to make us totally believe this. The evidence not to fear, even for the fate of the author's daughters. Have they too inherited the family legacy?
What it does make us realize is that often, even the best that medical science can offer for diseases like bi-polar or depression proves not enough. All these family members took advantage, to differing degrees, of state of the art psychotherapy and psychopharmacology and treatments that existed at the time. It was not enough. And I can't feel that he has really given much hope to those that share this depression or know and care for those that suffer these same afflictions.
"If our genes are more good than bad, if out DNA or traumas don't cripple our ability to learn as we get older, if nothing sticks us to the past despairs, we can survive; we can thrive."

And if not?
I hope that the author accomplished what he wanted to in writing this book, in terms of coming to some sort of peace with his brother's death. But as he admits, he remains unable to explain it to us. And I hope that he is right about being lucky enough to have been blessed with the support and knowledge to enable him to escape the fate of so many in his family. The book is subtitled “ A Memoir of Loss and Survival”...unfortunately, there is a great deal about the loss and not enough, except for an attempt in the four page epilogue, to explain the survival and to make his message ultimately hopeful.

Available From Amazon


  1. I hope you like Ferrol Sams work. I would love to meet him.

  2. If not, I will know who to blame! :-)
    I do really admire the fact that his FIRST book was published when he was 60 and he is still publishing.

  3. I enjoyed your review. While I'm not going to run out and get the book right away, I will probably ultimately pick it up as we have some relatives who have been affected with the inheritance of a type of paranoid mental illness that generally passes through the males - thank goodness it is a distant relative, but this might help someone in the family!

    Thanks for sharing!


  4. he is a very good writer, and the narrative of his family is interesting, especially the early years in the US.

    I guess I just wanted more answers. Maybe there are no answers...
    but it is worth looking at.

  5. I enjoyed your review. I still want to read it for my own reasons.
    I emailed that contact you gave me for it and used your name as you suggested. I haven't heard anything but I'm still hoping.

  6. If you don't hear from them or don't just get the book in the mail in a few weeks, let me know. Just drop me an e-mail or a message at LT and I will send you my copy.


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