What Disturbs Our Blood

James FitzGerald won the 2010 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction for this family memoir.

James FitzGerald

Dr. John FitzGerald founded Connaught Labs, saved untold lives with his vaccines and transformed the idea of public health in Canada and the world. What so darkened his reputation that his memory has been all but erased?

James FitzGerald is a sensitive, withdrawn boy is born into the gothic house of his long-dead grandfather, a brilliant yet tormented pathologist of Irish blood and epic accomplishment whose memory has been mysteriously erased from public consciousness. As the boy watches his own father — also an eminent doctor — plunge into a suicidal psychosis, he intuits, as the psychiatrists do not, some unspeakable secret buried like a tumour deep in the multi-generational layers of the family unconscious. Growing into manhood, he knows in his bones that he must stalk an ancient curse before it stalks him. To set himself free, he must break the silence and put words to the page. His future lies in the past. (From Vintage Canada)

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From the book

On a bleak November day in 1953, my mother, a thwarted artist turned reluctant housewife, snapped the cold shutter of her camera and captured the image of my three-year-old self, wrapped in a hand-me-down woolen coat with velvet collar. My charismatic, witty mother was a shape-shifter; I was an emotional weatherman, my head tilted like a radar dish, hyperattuned to her moods. Some believe all writers write for their mothers.

Decades passed before I began to plumb the meaning of the worried yet curious expression of the boy in the photograph, haunted by what he knows and is coming to know. Why did the nightmares of my childhood — slow suffocations, falling trees, flashing knives — routinely rumble through my unconscious like clues to an unsolved murder? What was I trying to figure out? What could I possibly make of the electrical storms that raged in my head?

From What Disturbs Our Blood by James FitzGerald ©2010. Published by Vintage Canada.

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