REVIEW: ROSEMARY: THE HIDDEN KENNEDY DAUGHTER, BY KATE CLIFFORD LARSON

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Over the years, I have read numerous memoirs and biographies that feature the Kennedys. But none have focused on their first daughter…until this book, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter.

The author skillfully incorporated the stories of the Kennedy family, their position in society, their various homes and political experiences, and then spotlighted Rosemary as the centerpiece in the way that she affected all of their choices.

Not that she was viewed as more important, but in trying to meet her mental and emotional challenges, the parents were forced to study up and increase their knowledge of what was available, and in later life, her needs and what her experiences had shown them would impact donations, foundations, and laws introduced by the political members of the family.

The experience of Rosemary’s birth, as the first daughter and third child for Joe and Rose, would, of course, set her life on an irreversible journey, facing challenges none of the other siblings would have to face.

The era of her birth and early childhood years (1917-1920s) were absent the knowledge and expertise that would come later. Special education and resources to meet those needs, as well as knowing what to do to overcome brain injuries suffered in birth, would be many years away.

The Kennedy wealth did help to smooth the way to schools, the resources that were available, and experiences of living abroad when Joe, Sr., was an ambassador to England.

The frustrations of Rosemary as a young adult would lead to one of the most chilling experiences ever, in my opinion. The lobotomy.

Still in the experimental stages, (and hopefully, a thing of the past now), the procedure was somehow offered as a potential cure for Rosemary, but I’m not sure her father even believed that there would be a cure. He seemed keenly aware of the dangers of having her out there in the world, behaving badly, jeopardizing herself, and giving the family a bad name, and he could not take that risk.

When in this state of mind, a parent can be persuaded of any number of things. But after the lobotomy, Rosemary’s condition lost considerable ground, physically and mentally, and institutions were her future. Cut off from the world, her family, and life as she’d known it…possibly the only blessing for her was that she might have lost many memories of how things had been before.

It is easy to lay blame on decisions and choices made in stressful situations, especially for a family consumed with wealth, power, and their reputation…but, in the end, we can also blame the lack of knowledge in the medical profession at the time, coupled with the desire of the experimenters to push their own theories forward.

A book that kept me fascinated throughout, it also added more layers to the family picture. I especially enjoyed seeing the photos, showing Rosemary as part of the family. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

ONE SIGNIFICANT DAY INFORMS LIVES — A REVIEW

As Robert F. Kennedy’s somber funeral train journeys from New York to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1968, assorted crowds gather at various points along the way to show their respect.

A fictional cast of characters with numerous hopes and dreams bring sundry tales to the mix.

For Lionel Chase, a young black man on his first day as a porter on that train, and for Jamie West, a disabled Vietnam vet, home from that war and facing the obstacles of his damaged life, the journey of the train seems especially significant. Other characters whose lives do not intersect with these, and whose only connection seems to be their quest to find something inspirational about the train journey, include a young Irish girl who had hoped to earn a nanny position in the Kennedy household; a woman who spirits her young daughter away with her to watch, spinning lies to her disapproving family to cover her absence; and a sixth grade boy, recently “kidnapped” by his father, who joins his friends to “reenact” the assassination near the train tracks during their wait.

Because of an accident early in the journey, however, the train is delayed by four hours. As the anxiety increases, the tension builds. In the interim, the characters’ stories are intensified, with numerous mishaps, misadventures, and opportunities to showcase their individual searches.

Themes of hope, fear, and journeys weave their way into The Train of Small Mercies, creating a melodramatic backdrop for this story of life in the 1960s. With the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and the rift amongst the American people over numerous philosophical differences, this tale is served up elegantly and profoundly. We see ordinary people setting aside their differences on this one day, and how the day plays out for each of them will inform the rest of their lives.

Alternating between the characters, we also notice the dramatic effects of the day on each, while feeling some of the emotions wrought from the experience. In the end, none of the characters intersected, nor did the stories actually bring about any major conclusions. Instead, the tale showed how one day could create subtle changes in individual lives when set against a larger drama.

Four stars.