Wednesday 16 July 2008


Casper (or Pharmakon) is the latest book written by Dirk Wittenborn, who might be already well-known for his successful book "Fierce People". Now he portrays a family living in the second part of the 20th century, struggling with a tragic incident. The youngest son dies in a homicidal rampage, committed by a patient of Mr. Friedrich (the father), who is working as a psychopharmacologist. The book is about drugs, about sadness and happiness and about expectations - family life with its ups and downs. All this told in an exciting but unagitated way, which made me read this book pretty fast.

In this ambitious but flawed novel about drug makers and drug takers, Wittenborn (Fierce People) unfurls the cautionary story of Dr. Will Friedrich, a psychopharmacologist at Yale in 1951, who teams up with a female psychiatrist to test an experimental mood-enhancing drug extracted from a leaf used by New Guinea witch doctors. Will tests the new med on a suicidal freshman, Casper Gedsic, and Casper's resulting homicidal outbreak will trouble Will for the rest of his life. Zach, the narrator and youngest Friedrich boy (conceived in the wake of Casper's freakout), comes of age during the tail end of the '60s, has a truncated brush with writerly success and cops a crippling habit. He and his three siblings end up disappointing Will as their lives run counter to his ambitions for them: daughters Fiona and Lucy forgo lucrative careers for more fulfilling lifestyles (Fiona becomes a painter, Lucy an aid worker), and Willy drops out of prelaw to study art. Unfortunately, the fates of the Friedrich children are of much less dramatic interest than that of their father, and as the novel shifts focus to their travails, this dysfunctional family narrative disappointingly peters out into irresolution.

author: dirk wittenborn
du mont (german)

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