In May, 1995, a photograph and an anonymous note arrived at The Harvard Crimson: "Keep this picture. There will soon be a very juicy story involving this woman." Soon afterwards, Sinedu Tadesse stabbed her roommate, Trang Phuong Ho, to death, and then hanged herself.
This riveting book recounts the stories of these women, whose admission to Harvard was "halfway heaven," a bridge to the American dream after lives of hardship. Sinedu grew up under communist tyranny in Ethiopia, while Trang was born in a Vietnamese forced labor camp, and fled the country with her father and sister to end up on welfare in Boston. Despite their similarities, the two were never friends; Trang was friendly and outgoing, while Sinedu, awkward and shy, had trouble adjusting to a culture vastly different from her own. Drawing upon her astonishing diaries, New York Times bestselling author Thernstrom, a Harvard graduate herself, reconstructs Sinedu's inner life to reveal a girl struggling against isolation and depression. The book reveals Harvard as an institution ill-equipped to deal with mental illness on campus that apparently cared more for its reputation than for its student body.
A brilliant synthesis of cultural analysis, psychological study, and first-rate investigative journalism, Halfway Heaven is a haunting exploration of the power of profound loneliness and an expose of one of America's most distinguished universities.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Harvard prides itself on being a melting pot: the student body is 19 percent Asian, 7 percent foreigners, and more than one-third of all of the students are minorities. So when a junior from Ethiopia, Sinedu Tadesse, stabbed her roommate 45 times and then hung herself, the university came under immediate scrutiny from the press. Melanie Thernstrom approaches this tragedy with the sensitivity of someone who cares about Harvard, as an alumna and daughter of a professor, and she engages the reader with an unassuming, personal style. In the end, Halfway Heaven presents a disturbing picture of how a small, prestigious community can neglect its mentally-ill members. As quotations from Sinedu's diaries reflect all too clearly, what it takes to do well in school does not necessarily build a healthy psyche: "When I am with one person, I shake with nervousness fearing that we will run out of things to say and she or he will be bored. For math I had a teacher; for painting I had a teacher; for social life I had no one."
Also recommended is Thernstrom's first book, The Dead Girl.From the Publisher:
Praise for Melanie Thernstrom:
"A book of rare, illuminating depth... Melanie Thernstrom once again demonstrates a great, shattering gift for writing about forgotten people."
--Mikal Gilmore, author of Shot in the Heart
"Halfway Heaven takes us deep into the twin Harvards--the seemingly cozy world of the insider...and the terrifyingly lonely one of the outsider."
--Stewart O'Nan, author of The Speed Queen and The Names of the Dead
"Fascinating...this book is a wake-up call to American universities everywhere."
--Susan Power, author of The Grass Dancer
"Like Hannah Arendt, Melanie Thernstrom here beautifully explores the etiology of evil."
--Lauren Slater, clinical psychologist and author of Welcome to My Country
The Dead Girl:
"Eloquent...a notable model of the female Bildungsroman."
--Helen Vendler, New York Review of Books
"The Dead Girl is groundbreaking, new and startling, and will surely have a long life in literature."
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