Roll Back the World

A Sister's Memoir

What happens to sibling relationships when your older sister, the budding poet you loved and admired as a child, falls prey to severe mental illness?

When the sister of Deborah Kasdan, LA68, GR70, returns from a gap year in Israel, she seems to glow with health and beauty. In three years, however, Rachel is committed to a psychiatric hospital. The diagnosis: schizophrenia. In clear and vivid prose, and with the help of Rachel’s letters and poetry, Deborah provides a poignant look at a mid-century Jewish family under strain; offers a moving account of Rachel’s indomitable spirit; and explores family history from the WWII years and the Cold War, trying to make sense of what happened.

As the years pass, Deborah focuses on her own family and career but constantly feels shadowed by a sense of guilt, which is compounded when she and her other two siblings make a bold attempt to help Rachel–a plan that fails. Only after a mental health worker asks Rachel to write a poem does she finally gain her freedom. To Deborah’s great joy, Rachel finds acceptance, despite her disabilities, in a compassionate community, including a synagogue where she returns to the religion of her youth.