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Guests on Earth

Guests on Earth - Lee Smith

Evalina comes to the renowned Highland hospital for acute sadness. Her mother had died and she found herself in untenable circumstances, which will eventually lead her to this cutting edge hospital for mental disorders under the innovative Dr. Carroll. There she will find a home and friends that will become  for her a new family and a supportive community.


Of course, this hospital became famous because of Zelda Fitzgerald, who was in and out of care here, for many years. She plays a role in this story as Evalina is here at the same time Zelda is also hospitalized. We get to meet the enigmatic Zelda, the sad Zelda, and Evalina herself remarks that Zelda never looks the same way twice. 


The reader will meet many other characters and get an insightful view of the treatments available for the mentally ill at this time. Some of the woman committed here are here because they do not fit into the society of which they are part. Not being happy in a life, that one should be, children, wonderful husband but still sad and in they go. Insulin shock therapy, ECT and other treatments are all used to jolt these women back into a semblance of compliance or wellness. I greatly came to sympathize and to like many of these woman, and at book's end realized I would miss many of them. They had their own community ,put on dances and shows, suffered with and leaned on each other. 


The fire that would kill Zelda and others happened in 1948, and  the author offers explanations on how and who started the fire, though I don;;t believe that a cause was ever really stated to a degree of certainty. The author became interested in Zelda and the hospital because she has first hand knowledge, her own father being a patient there in the fifties and her son, ongoing treatment there in the eighties. 


I loved how the author treated all these women so tenderly,  writing with a great deal of empathy, showing the courage of those thought to be mentally ill and those who are not, but still need help of some kind.  Also some of the doctors, who tried to find more humane treatment for those who needed them most and who treated them as people and grew to care about them.  Well done.