“As she did in her previous memoir Phantom Limb, Sternburg uses all the skills at her disposal, the sensitivity, precision and lyricism of a poet, the hard edges of a photographer, the intelligence and scholarship of an academic, to plumb the many facets of this story and its legacy on her and her family. Sternburg spares no one, not the doctors involved, not her family members, nor herself.” Tom Teicholz, Forbes.com
“Sternburg’s writing is incisive, and she deeply explores the boundaries that were unjustly crossed by family members in the name of love. The author also touches on other well-known individuals whose family members had lobotomies, such as Allen Ginsberg’s mother and Rosemary Kennedy. Numerous photographs of Sternburg’s family, a genealogy, and a comprehensive timeline add additional useful elements to this memorable story.” Kirkus Reviews
“….. beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking new book by poet, memoirist, and photographer Janet Sternburg ……. White Matter isn’t a conventional hybrid memoir in which a personal story and its larger context appear in alternating chapters, or in paragraphs separated by space breaks. In White Matter there is no “background material.” The subtitle of Sternburg’s book, “A Memoir of Family and Medicine,” signals that the story of Sternburg’s family is inextricable from the story of lobotomy.” Los Angeles Review of Books
“Most of us love a good mystery. Add intergenerational secrets to the mix and you’ve just upped the grip quotient. Add to that a medical procedure that’s the stuff of nightmares and horror movies, and you’ve got a potential hit. Janet Sternburg’s memoir White Matter takes this recipe and adds a layer of truth.” The Jewish Independent
“This is a unique book. The writing is beautiful, the observations refined, the subject gripping.” Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error and Self Comes to Mind
“White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine is a stunning achievement, attempting nothing less than to understand the impossible. Sternburg is a master at creating the perfect structuring metaphor through which to tell her family’s history and by which to illuminate a particularly dark time in our nation’s history. The work of White Matter is to find resolution to the dilemma of lives gone awry, despite the best of intentions. Ultimately the book’s wisdom is its graceful depiction of wholeness within loss, the strength Sternburg found to escape her past, and then to return with questions only she could ask. Her answers matter to all of us.” Ladette Randolph, author of Leaving the Pink House and A Sandhills Ballad and Editor-in-chief of Ploughshares
“Janet Sternburg’s White Matter—which intertwines the story of two lobotomized relatives, the history of lobotomy itself, and the author’s own coming of age/coming to writing—demonstrates that sometimes telling it slant needs to give way to telling it straight. As Sternburg grapples thoroughly with her unnerving subject, her antennae admirably stay out for that which makes us human, how we serve and fail each other, what enables both love and grace.” Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
“In this remarkable memoir, Janet Sternburg illuminates that darkest of family secrets — mental illness — through painful memory and scrupulous research. White Matter is gutsy and graceful at once, and thoroughly compelling.” Hilma Wolitzer, author of Hearts and An Available Man.