Asylum = sanctuary, safety, refuge- not in this case.
The Bird Box
The Story Plant
Story Plant, The
Society said they were insane, and in 1954, that was enough to put someone away in an asylum and separate them from the world. Even here, though, it was possible for souls to flourish.
Jakie was one such soul. He was all but lost until he met the girl. She is locked away in a cellar room, but he can feel her presence by imagining he is a small bird visiting her through a hole he has made in a stone wall. He spends hours whistling a cardinal’s song to her and she learns to whistle it back to him. She doesn’t even know that Jakie exists, only the bird, but their communication is changing her. And the overwhelming, protective love that Jakie feels for the girl will compel him to find more of himself than he ever knew there was – and through this, he will alter their worlds profoundly.
A remarkable exploration of the spirit, a sharp indictment of our blindness to what makes us human, and an unforgettable portrait of the power of the will, The Bird Box will move you in ways you never anticipated.
This is powerfully written book that confronts and shocks the reader when it spotlights the cruel and tortuous experiments and treatment of those deemed society as “different “ or whose behaviours were difficult to manage or embarrassing, those who were easily classified as insane and treated sub humanly. This novel gives the inmates a voice, a space to be heard.
Women were easily diagnosed as “insane” as they were relatively powerless in society at the time – women who were deemed difficult, embarrassing, free spirited, or who suffered the real pains of grief or menstruation or hormone imbalances or other illnesses or who had an unacceptable (to the male centric society) sexual appetite or who merely “got in the way” or did not do as they were told were often committed or duped into going into an asylum. In fact anyone could be easily condemned to time in the asylum, money and power bought influence and doctors were all powerful.
The first half of this book shocked and horrified me…the conditions were horrendous even in this particular institution which considered itself “enlightened.” Though a work of fiction this asylum was typical of conditions of the time- my studies at university substantiate this. The setting and the treatment of the disempowered was disgusting, the individuals considered sub human and often subject to malicious and sadistic treatment, dignity is denied, choice is banned, behaviours which have made me reflect on those seeking asylum today. Society has not changed a great deal; we incarcerate refugees /asylum seekers in detention centres in shameful conditions, isolating individuals from society, separating families, treating those seeking refuge as the enemy – thankfully lobotomy is not on the menu but in general terms, conditions for those needing asylum are difficult but I digress.
The second half of the book showed realistic optimism –and showcased the potential of the human spirit. Even in such depressing conditions hope prevails, small kindnesses make such a difference.
This is a very powerful, moving and at times confronting read. It will encourage you to scrutinise the world that surrounds you.