Anna is an American Jewish psychotherapist who lives in Vienna. Nearly twenty-five years after her father’s untimely death, she is plagued by nightmares and feels compelled to solve the enigma of his unpublished, autobiographical novella, Tell Marvin. Dan Rosenberg, a New York attorney, is approached by a widowed Holocaust survivor who begs him to represent her son, Marvin. After returning safely from the war in Vietnam, he had been arrested on drug charges and imprisoned in Franco’s Spain. Although Marvin faces a harsh sentence, he is headstrong and reluctant to accept the clever escape plan that Rosenberg devises for him with the support of the US consul.
Anna sets out to draw parallels between Marvin’s self- endangering episode in fascist Spain and her own venturesome decision to settle in Austria, a self-proclaimed “island of bliss” that thrives on the myth of having been Hitler’s victim, as popularized in “The Sound of Music.” Yet the more she ponders her experiences of anti-Semitism and the unforeseeable risks that she—like Marvin—took by underestimating the political situation in her adopted country, the more she discovers the striking similarities between her father’s vigilant, discerning traits and her own.
Nancy Amendt-Lyon, born 1950 in Manhattan, studied psychology in the United States, Switzerland, and Austria.
She is a psychotherapist in private practice and resides permanently in Vienna, Austria.
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Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Published in Gestalt Review 2016, Volume XX, No. 1, 82-84.
Case Unclosable by Nancy Amendt-Lyon (2013) CreateSpace Publishing Platform, ISBN-10: 1492306460. German translation: Und niemals ein Ende (2015) Salzburg/Vienna: Edition Tandem.
Nancy Amendt-Lyon was born in 1950 in New York into a Jewish family, whose members fled National Socialism in Eastern Europe. She lives and works in Vienna and is the author of several important academic books and essays on Gestalt therapy. With Case Unclosable, however, she has chosen a very different literary form: a mixture between novella, case study, diary, and essay—that is, autobiographical fiction and non-fiction in one. The author invites us to participate in the exploration and handling of central aspects of her personal history: foremost her relationship with her late father; her inseparably intertwined Jewish roots and dramatic family history; and her years of departure in the 1970s.
It is not a given that psychotherapists write well, especially when they are removing themselves from their explicit area of expertise; or, alternatively, those who too readily produce autobiographical or fictional material, often turn out to lack talent, yet the more narcissistic they are in their drive to announce their life to the world. The author is thus leaving safe terrain when changing the genre. Yet I must emphasize the fact that she can afford to do it. She writes damn well. That is why this way of working through a personal topic is tantamount to a holistic examination. The reader is confronted with many parallel stories and threads for understanding, identification, and tangency. Together these create a pull in the reader: you just want to know where things are heading, what is lurking behind the next bend, what might be unearthed and how this is affecting the narrator. You are not only close, you are absolutely engrossed with the author, almost as if she were part of yourself. At times you rub your eyes—after all it is her life that simultaneously is encrypted and deciphered in a literary way, that passes before the reader and that occupies the self of the reader repeatedly.
What is the book about? Case Unclosable is the story of an open gestalt. Transferred into a specific life, this open gestalt is far more encompassing. This narration (as I would like to call this style henceforth) circles around the early loss of the father and this unresolved drama is resurfacing in the form of nightmares. If the author were not an experienced Gestalt therapist and could she not distinguish between a descriptive and meta-communicative, between factual, personal, and procedural depiction, then who knows what would have become of this material. As it is, she skillfully tackles this task, sorts her father’s legacy, researches, delves into her own history and confronts her fear of any possible impact this might have on her.
What emerges is a fascinating expedition into the suppressed and unanswered realms of her existence. The deeper she enters into the substance, the more she discovers the backdrop to her life and her own issues are appearing in a different light. It is an acknowledged fact: In every involvement one never merely encounters the object of one’s research, the other, but also oneself. What emerges and how it interconnects is a subject matter that allows no escape.
In proper sequence: Nancy-Amendt-Lyon is confronted with an unpublished short story written by her father, “Tell Marvin,” in which he works through one of the cases he had taken on as a lawyer; it contains a variety of topics defining him as a person and that are part of his family history. It is about a young Vietnam veteran, who gets caught as a drug courier in a fictitious Latin American country, and who is awaiting his sentence. Nancy’s father was asked by Marvin’s mother to take on the case to try his utmost to get him released from prison. I do not want to disclose the ensuing developments apart from the fact that there are several twists and turns and it doesn’t take long until we are confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust.
This becomes a trip into the „Heart of Darkness“ as much as into the humanist motives of life. One encounters cowardice and courage, complacency and passion, cruelty and empathy, the drive towards justice and probing doubt, a lot of doubt, and a deep understanding of human beings. We learn a lot about delegation and attachment; the family’s atmosphere that contributes to our becoming ourselves, and that gives us life-tasks, showing us who we are and where we belong. But you have to have read it all by yourself...
Now, as a book reviewer I have a fundamental problem. I simply do not want to tell what is lurking behind the various bends of the story-line. The topical developments create an arc of suspense that I mustn’t give away. Therefore I won’t and merely offer a few hints. The author is not only directing the pace of the story. Being directly affected, she herself is drawn into the maelstrom of themes; she is simultaneously player, commentator, and spectator. The entire book is, due to its content and form, not suitable for any superficial party-talk: “May I offer you another shrimp canapé? Do you have enough to drink?“ No—instead, the soul may be overpowered at times. To stick with the story requires from the reader courage and will power.
This takes us again to the special nexus between content and form. We follow various parallel events over several generations—interlaced just like a Russian Matryoshka doll. This way, life is taking place in all of our heads and hearts. Experiences, emotions, reflections, and activities are not emerging as separate genres, they simply appear in their own way, all intertwined. The stream of consciousness knows of no disciplines and does not differentiate between phantasy and reality. Our distinctions are, in the end, a question of concentration, of our volition’s contextualization, morale, and economics. The psyche does not ask “Is this proper how I think and feel?” The question is not what nurtures our cognizance, but rather what are we linking together and how are we acting as a result of it.
The book’s style corresponds with this mode of awareness. It is the path of the human psyche that motivates from within, that originates from the person who is striving for correlation, rhythms, and conciseness. The book was written in a Gestalt therapeutic manner through and through. This has one major drawback: It is unavoidable to take the author to your heart. One effect of the autobiographical style is that story and narrator merge and it doesn’t take long until she appears before your inner eye; not long until she crosses over into you and you have the feeling of being part of her. This connects and embarrasses at the same time, as you know you are an “other.” For the reader this is identification, for the author this is, to a large extent, real. But what can you do against this close union? There is no remedy. This is how empathy works. And we Gestalt therapists know that without sympathizing and empathizing, no proper relationship is possible and life futile. There are worse things than experiencing this effect when reading a text.
Der Roman Case Unclosable ist 2015 bei Edition Tandem (Salzburg) in der Übersetzung von Anna Maria Boly unter dem Titel Und niemals ein Ende auf Deutsch erschienen.
Link zu Edition Tandem mit Leseprobe:
Link zu Daniela Fürsts (Literadio) Interview mit mir auf der Frankfurter Buchmesse Oktober 2015
Link zu Marta Halperts Interview mit mir in der Zeitschrift WINA
Bestellungen entweder direkt über den Verlag, Edition Tandem edition-tandem.at oder in Ihrer Buchhandlung (ISBN: 978-3-902932-40-2 (Buch); ISBN: 978-3-902932-13-6 (e-book)).