News & Politics

Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories From a Decade Gone Mad

“Honest and accessible portrait” of schizophrenia.

 In 1975, when she was a preteen, the author and her one-year-old sister were abducted by their suddenly schizophrenic mother, ending up in a barely livable beach cabin near Newport News, Virginia. As part of an imaginary “secret army,” their mother had orders to set up a field hospital. The girls were enlisted to prepare the cabin for “war children.” Their mother blacked out windows, plastered walls with faces from magazines, combed through books looking for code.

 Holman’s memoir is told from two points of view: “Gingie”—the author as a girl—doesn’t understand this period but tries to lead a normal childhood; the older Virginia doesn’t understand it either, struggling even harder in adolescence and adulthood. By 2000, she’s sifting through memories in an attempt to gain control of her emotions and confront her fears of inheriting her mother’s disease.

 Holman places her mother’s, and her own, turbulence in the context of another abductee’s story: “That spring the famous photo of Patty Hearst appeared. Citizen Tania’s image was everywhere, her fine soft face turned tough. The beret; her warrior stance; the way she held the butt of the carbine against her pelvis—everything about her thrilled me. I studied the photos of Patty and Tania like reverse before and after pictures from a Mary Kay makeover.” Just as the country was confused by an heiress turned terrorist, Gingie and her family were perplexed by her mother’s transformation.

 Holman writes with tempered doses of humor and innocent realization. While her mother pores over books to decipher the secret army’s orders, Gingie imagines herself as another sleuth: “For me, it is like being Nancy Drew, without the red sports car, or any real case to crack. But who cares?”

Rescuing Patty Hearst allows those untouched by schizophrenia to understand its terror and humanity, just as it offers solace to those who have been touched by it. It’s an honest and accessible portrait of the disease’s hold on a mind—and on a family.

Virginia Holman

Simon & Schuster