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Songs of Three Islands: A Story of Mental Illness in an Iconic American Family

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Their fabled wealth enabled them to amass great houses and even private islands, but it was a dynasty torn apart by a succession of tragedies: suicide, alcoholism, and extremities of mental illness were passed on from generation to generation. For the women in the family, the consequences of this legacy have been painful. After a difficult childhood, the author’s daughter w Their fabled wealth enabled them to amass great houses and even private islands, but it was a dynasty torn apart by a succession of tragedies: suicide, alcoholism, and extremities of mental illness were passed on from generation to generation. For the women in the family, the consequences of this legacy have been painful. After a difficult childhood, the author’s daughter was diagnosed at the age of eighteen with what is now known as borderline personality disorder, a debilitating mental illness that was for the parents—in the words of the novelist Sebastian Faulks—"a public shame as well as private devastation." Like all mothers of children afflicted with this condition, Monks suffered from guilt and self-recrimination as she struggled to heal a disease that had no cause but for which she was held responsible. In the end, through the intervention of a wise Jungian therapist, meditation, and—most important of all—acceptance, the author achieves a self-insight that enables her and her daughter to arrive at a delicate peace. Songs of Three Islands powerfully demonstrates that we are not defined by our inheritance alone.


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Their fabled wealth enabled them to amass great houses and even private islands, but it was a dynasty torn apart by a succession of tragedies: suicide, alcoholism, and extremities of mental illness were passed on from generation to generation. For the women in the family, the consequences of this legacy have been painful. After a difficult childhood, the author’s daughter w Their fabled wealth enabled them to amass great houses and even private islands, but it was a dynasty torn apart by a succession of tragedies: suicide, alcoholism, and extremities of mental illness were passed on from generation to generation. For the women in the family, the consequences of this legacy have been painful. After a difficult childhood, the author’s daughter was diagnosed at the age of eighteen with what is now known as borderline personality disorder, a debilitating mental illness that was for the parents—in the words of the novelist Sebastian Faulks—"a public shame as well as private devastation." Like all mothers of children afflicted with this condition, Monks suffered from guilt and self-recrimination as she struggled to heal a disease that had no cause but for which she was held responsible. In the end, through the intervention of a wise Jungian therapist, meditation, and—most important of all—acceptance, the author achieves a self-insight that enables her and her daughter to arrive at a delicate peace. Songs of Three Islands powerfully demonstrates that we are not defined by our inheritance alone.

30 review for Songs of Three Islands: A Story of Mental Illness in an Iconic American Family

  1. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    I bought this book to sell and ended up reading it. There may be spoilers but it is biographical so here it goes: It is written by the great-grand niece of Andrew Carnegie, who was in business with her great-grandfather, Thomas Carnegie. Monks chronicles the first awareness of mental illness in her family that started with her grandmother who spent time at McLean hospital, famous for its wealthy and note-worthy patients. Set first on the island of Cumberland, off the coast of Florida, the author I bought this book to sell and ended up reading it. There may be spoilers but it is biographical so here it goes: It is written by the great-grand niece of Andrew Carnegie, who was in business with her great-grandfather, Thomas Carnegie. Monks chronicles the first awareness of mental illness in her family that started with her grandmother who spent time at McLean hospital, famous for its wealthy and note-worthy patients. Set first on the island of Cumberland, off the coast of Florida, the author confronts her lavish, wealthy lifestyle in a large mansion on the island. On this island, the family and its assets were run by the great-grandmother, being that Thomas Carnegie died of pneumonia at age 42. Eventually, all that is left is the author's mother , Lucy and herself at a young age, in a run down old mansion, struggling to make sense of her mother's bizarre behavior. Her father is an alcoholic and a womanizer and is out of the picture early on in her life. Being that she is wealthy, she manages eventually to escape from her mother's house and strange behavior through a series of boarding schools and then colleges. All the while, she is suffering from her own demons of not feeling loved and out of place in life with bouts of depression and needing a lot of time alone to decompress from impressions she gets from the outside world. She states that miraculously she married the right man at an early age, but they give birth to a daughter who proves to be hard to manage, even as an infant. Their next child is normally behaved, but she and her husband continue to struggle with the rage in their older child, who is first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and then borderline personality disorder. She tries for many years to get help for her daughter with no real success though there seem to be periods of remission here and there. Finally, as Monks grows older, she is forced to confront her own guilt, as parents are often blamed for personality disorders in their children. She wonders if she didn't pass on the feeling from her mother of not being wanted and loved - somehow unconsciously. Through her own journey of trying to help her now adult daughter, she finds peace through yoga, Jungian analysis, and transcendental meditation and is able to let go somewhat of both the guilt and the futile attempts at family therapy once her daughter starts drinking again. Overall, the book is written in a lovely, stream of consciousness Jungian type of prose - very poetic and deep. The author learns, above all, to stay close to Spirit and examines her psychic nature which she had as a child and comes to the conclusion that her mother as well possibly suffered from BPD and that it is genetic. She is relieved towards the end of the writing of her book to find out that certain experts on BPD have learned that there are areas of the brain that are not working normally as in the average person in those with BPD and she feels relieved of guilt and has hope. The book title mentions three islands because that is where most of the story takes place, with various members of the family settling on one or the other of the islands, mostly owned by them. The author has a connection with the northernmost island (owned by the family of her husband) and the north wind, based on a story in which she finds her metaphorical mother in the symbol of the wind. The middle island is the one owned by her father, with whom she also has many painful confrontations due to his mental problems and drinking. Overall, the book was very inspiring for one on the spiritual path who has been handed difficulties with family members and has had to work through those difficulties and find peace. It helps greatly that she is married, has had and does have some peace with some members of her family, and is wealthy and has a beautiful place to live and write off the coast of Maine. I would have liked to know more of what happened to her daughter in the end, as the author offers only that her daughter has read her book and has objected to some of it respectfully.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Viviane Crystal

    Three islands provided homes for generations of the Carnegie family: Cumberland Island off the coast of Florida, Crescent Island near Maine, and the North Island near the Canadian border. These islands also serve as the metaphors and symbols of the singular world of madness plaguing the women in this notable family. The islands hold myriad nightmarish voices emerging from the unconscious and merging with the so often harsh reality of the consciousness of these family members. Millicent Monk wrot Three islands provided homes for generations of the Carnegie family: Cumberland Island off the coast of Florida, Crescent Island near Maine, and the North Island near the Canadian border. These islands also serve as the metaphors and symbols of the singular world of madness plaguing the women in this notable family. The islands hold myriad nightmarish voices emerging from the unconscious and merging with the so often harsh reality of the consciousness of these family members. Millicent Monk wrote this memoir to bring this world to light, to remove the stigma of mental illness, to be a guide for those who have no access to mental health in their illness or for their families. To discover that what one feels, thinks, says and does that is so irrational and creates such indescribable havoc in families is life-giving in a way that will be pure salvation for those who read this painful, poignant but incredibly important account. Millicent Monks first offers the world of her mother, Lucy Carnegie, a woman who seemed to slowly go mad. Yes, she heard voices and believed fanatically in germs destroying her children, but she was also the victim of harsh verbal and even physical abuse from her husband who appeared convivial and charming to everyone else. The reader is not sure which is worse, watching the descent of Lucy into madness to the point where she has to be committed to a hospital or the way the author tries to cope with it, turning off every thought and feeling, knowing that if she thinks or feels too much about it all she will surely go mad herself. But such a solution isn’t a cure at all but only a different road into the world of mental illness that increases with time; underneath the total lack of feeling is indescribable hurt and anger that cannot help but leak out initially and then more forcefully later on. As she puts it so well, “What could be crueler, to live on this earth and not be able to feel loved or love oneself?” Fortunately, Millicent Monks has experienced her own precious years of difficult but healing therapy. The author also recounts the crises experienced with her own battle with cancer and her daughter’s borderline personality disorder. It sounds so simple to name a disease but it is very practical the way Ms. Monks describes learning to care and let go or not care at the same time in order not to be consumed by this major problem. To say more would be to spoil a very special read, a memoir of beautiful descriptions of the islands juxtaposed with the miasma of mental disease threatening to leash its “murderous rage” upon any and all. What is more important is that this memoir is not just a litany of suffering but a tribute to the strength required and manifested by family members, including the author’s loving husband Bobby, doctors, and other mental health practitioners, as well as friends and other family members. In a world that often spends far too much time lamenting disasters resulting from mental illness in the news, here is a book of hope, a plea to identify and help those in need of treatment and love before any looming crises emerge. Wonderful memoir worthy of its brave, sensitive and uniquely special author! Highly recommended!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Interesting, different. The author is from a background of what seems from my perspective at least to be immense wealth, lots of incidental detail about this (among other things they own or have owned the three islands of the title). It was the connection with Andrew Carnegie that made me pick this up (she is his brother's direct descendant). The story is really about the mental illness of her mother and daughter and its effect on her and the rest of her family. All the Jungian analysis and alte Interesting, different. The author is from a background of what seems from my perspective at least to be immense wealth, lots of incidental detail about this (among other things they own or have owned the three islands of the title). It was the connection with Andrew Carnegie that made me pick this up (she is his brother's direct descendant). The story is really about the mental illness of her mother and daughter and its effect on her and the rest of her family. All the Jungian analysis and alternative therapies are a bit much if you are not particularly moved by that approach, and I suspect I wouldn't have much in common with the lady's political views, but I quite enjoyed the book despite that. The picture of her upbringing alone with her clearly unwell mother is stark and quite shocking, and some passages are almost lyrical (the islands are beutifully described). It's a sad story.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    Songs of Three Islands was criticized on Amazon.com because Millicent Monks didn't portray her daughter in a positive light. Yet I found the book to be an illuminating memoir that is revealing in its transparency. Millicent Monks has a daughter with borderline personality disorder and the author pulls no punches in detailing the harrowing nature of this mental illness. The link is to tell readers that no one escapes the cruel blow of mental illness: not the rich nor the poor not the black nor the w Songs of Three Islands was criticized on Amazon.com because Millicent Monks didn't portray her daughter in a positive light. Yet I found the book to be an illuminating memoir that is revealing in its transparency. Millicent Monks has a daughter with borderline personality disorder and the author pulls no punches in detailing the harrowing nature of this mental illness. The link is to tell readers that no one escapes the cruel blow of mental illness: not the rich nor the poor not the black nor the white: a mental illness effects everyone in the world. Millicent Monks anchors the settings on the three islands where she lives. I wonder how her daughter is doing now. I would like to read a memoir from the daughter's perspective. I'm hopeful some good can come of the kinds of revelatory first person accounts.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Iva

    The rich are different -- of course they have more money, but often they are even crazier. This is another memoir of money and mental illness. Of course her father had numerous affairs which brought on her fragile mother's sharp decline. The author does not overwhelm the narrative with her family connection to the Carnegies and Rockefellers, but the reader is well aware of it. Monks tells a touching and honest story of her search for stability in spite of some unfortunate inheritances. Readable, The rich are different -- of course they have more money, but often they are even crazier. This is another memoir of money and mental illness. Of course her father had numerous affairs which brought on her fragile mother's sharp decline. The author does not overwhelm the narrative with her family connection to the Carnegies and Rockefellers, but the reader is well aware of it. Monks tells a touching and honest story of her search for stability in spite of some unfortunate inheritances. Readable, shocking and very sad.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    This is an interesting book about a branch of the Carnegie family, and how they have dealt with mental illness. The author's mother was probably manic-depressive, the author has classic depression/anxiety (triggered by a difficult childhood and enormous stress) and the author's daughter has borderline personality disorder, which is horrifying. I don't think it would be possible to "really like" or "love" this book, because it is so sobering. But I thought it was really captivating, and I learned This is an interesting book about a branch of the Carnegie family, and how they have dealt with mental illness. The author's mother was probably manic-depressive, the author has classic depression/anxiety (triggered by a difficult childhood and enormous stress) and the author's daughter has borderline personality disorder, which is horrifying. I don't think it would be possible to "really like" or "love" this book, because it is so sobering. But I thought it was really captivating, and I learned a lot.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mar

    A memoir of Borderline Personality Disorder that spans three generations of a family. I related a lot to the author's early descriptions of her feelings, only to discover she doesn't seem to think she's Borderline at all, though she talks a lot about the illness in her mother and daughter. She has strange beliefs about psychic-ness and meditation and talks far too much about details of her family acquiring property and geographical details of places. A memoir of Borderline Personality Disorder that spans three generations of a family. I related a lot to the author's early descriptions of her feelings, only to discover she doesn't seem to think she's Borderline at all, though she talks a lot about the illness in her mother and daughter. She has strange beliefs about psychic-ness and meditation and talks far too much about details of her family acquiring property and geographical details of places.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marvel

    Interesting but strange book. I do cheer her for putting mental illness out there - it should be talked about more and we should all be more understanding of people suffering its affects - and the families of those people. She raises the issue of nature or nurture - and in the end feels it is far more nature than it is nurture.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    Hmm, this was a difficult book to get into. I found the way the author jumps around quite distracting. I myself am quite spiritual, but to me it was just a bit too fanciful, not what I expected. Not overly impressed.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    It was alright. I liked it but also had a lot of reservations about it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    My sister met the author through her work. It was an interesting read that followed several generations of the Carnegie family and their struggles with mental health issues.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephenie Oxley

    A fascinating book but a terribly sad story.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stacey

    Interesting book gives a peak inside not only a wealthy family, but one with dirty secrets. First half much better than later half.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mariea

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Cox

  17. 5 out of 5

    Beth

  18. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nicie

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lucian

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Groh

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lenny Gulino

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nero

  26. 5 out of 5

    Robyn Goff clark

  27. 4 out of 5

    Margot

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lynne

  29. 5 out of 5

    Connie

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sunan

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