Books and family

CW: suicide, abuse

I just finished one of the best book I’ve read in 2019: Jade City, by Fonda Lee. I utterly loved it, it’s a compelling story with unforgettable characters, and I’m already itching to get my hands on the sequel. So, what are you waiting for? Go read it!

This won’t be a review, though. Because one of the reasons Lee’s books struck me so hard is that… it revolves around a family, into which I’ve seen my own. Of course, my family is not a powerful magical clan of warriors – unfortunately – but there are some strikingly similarities between the Kauls and us Tacchi that had me stop my reading and say ‘F***, I can ralate to this so much’.

Kaul’s patriarch reminds me so much of my grandfather.

My grandfather was a troubled man. He was the doctor of a small town, and because of this widely respected. When his son (my father) married, he could not relinquish the status of chief of the house. My family were like guests, he ruled, and everything should work according to his will. He was a tyrant, and his already harsh temperament was exacerbated by his bipolar disorder and depression, illnesses that became worse and worse during the years.

A picture of my grandfather, when he was younger

He was always harsh with us, I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t, but the illness made him more paranoid and aggressive. After my father’s death to cancer, my grandfather spiralled down and his illness took hold of his body. He became violent and hateful. He left my mother bruises, and on me too.

I hated him immensely.

And despite this, during the last time of his life, the only thing I could feel for him was… pity, and sadness. In front of me, in a hospital bed, was not a tyrant but an old man drove crazy with mental diorders and dementia, who poisoned his life with his action and his own temperament. He divorced young but never remarried because of his pride. He refused early cures for bipolar disorder because of his pride. Despite all the horrible things he had us endure, it was difficult for me, at the end, to feel anything more than pity for the broken thing my grandfather was.

So, the way Kaul Sen falls pray to dementia during Jade City, and the way his grandchildren treat him despite his despotic behaviour… it really resonated with me.

Same as Anden’s character, which is one of my favourites.

I saw myself in Anden, his fears a reflection of my own. I don’t have a mother witch gone mad with power, but I do have a history of mental illness running in my family, and I suffer from depression myself.

All comes down to my grandfather again: his bipolar disorder broke him, but he suffered from depression way before that. I recently learned he tried to kill himself in his thirties, his oldest son was the one who found him dangling from a rope. He was comatose for days. His sister, too, took her own life.

So it’s from my teenage years, when I first started noticing depression had its claws on me, that I began to fear. And I fear still, that I will turn just like my grandfather – that my mental illness will only worsen with the years, and even if I have a different character than my grandda, I do wonder: how much was his natural inclination to blame for his behaviour, and how much was his illness? Will I turn just like he did? Will I die a broken thing like him?

It’s so strange, to see myself so clear in a book. And my own family drama too, especially a book that should have nothing to do with an Italian family from a small town in Lombardy.

But this is the power of books, I guess.