Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival

( 11 )

Overview

Christopher (Kit) Lukas’s mother committed suicide when he was a boy. He and his brother, Tony, were not told how she died. No one spoke of the family’s history of depression and bipolar disorder. The brothers grew up to achieve remarkable success; Tony as a gifted journalist (and author of the classic book, Common Ground), Kit as an accomplished television producer and director. After suffering bouts of depression, Kit was able to confront his family’s troubled past, but Tony never seemed to find the contentment...
See more details below
Paperback
$12.69
BN.com price
(Save 15%)$15.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (16) from $1.99   
  • New (5) from $1.99   
  • Used (11) from $1.99   
Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$11.99
BN.com price

Overview

Christopher (Kit) Lukas’s mother committed suicide when he was a boy. He and his brother, Tony, were not told how she died. No one spoke of the family’s history of depression and bipolar disorder. The brothers grew up to achieve remarkable success; Tony as a gifted journalist (and author of the classic book, Common Ground), Kit as an accomplished television producer and director. After suffering bouts of depression, Kit was able to confront his family’s troubled past, but Tony never seemed to find the contentment Kit had attained–he killed himself in 1997. Written with heartrending honesty, Blue Genes captures the devastation of this family legacy of depression and details the strength and hope that can provide a way of escaping its grasp.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Two suicides frame the life of Christopher "Kit" Lukas. The first was that of his mother, who ended her life when he was just six years old. The second was that of his older brother Tony, a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, when both men were in their 60s. In between these seminal events, Kit's grandmother Missy swallowed a fatal overdose. In his pellucid memoir, Lukas retraces the vein of mental illness that ran through his family like a toxic river, exploring what enabled him, unlike the others, to swim rather than sink, despite the times he could barely keep his head above water.

It takes courage to reveal one's psyche on paper, for public consumption. To paraphrase Tony Lukas, Blue Genes achieves "what all true artists do with the pain of living -- [transform] it into something purging and redemptive." Kit does so with the intent of helping others who have suffered in families devastated by mental illness. Throughout the Lukas brothers' parallel yet lonely childhoods, their teen years fraught with jealousy and competition, and their adulthood -- characterized by professional success amid private estrangement that pointed to inner realities far more disparate than Kit imagined -- a mutual need and dependence struggled to reveal itself. In Blue Genes, Kit paints a portrait of two men who tried to reach for each other across those tainted waters, but only one made it to shore. (Holiday 2008 Selection)
From the Publisher
“A compassionate but clear-eyed view of his family history. . . . With candor and courage Lukas writes that even now . . . he still has more questions than answers.” —Washington Post

“Lukas movingly describes what it was like to grow up the child of a suicide. . . . His story will resonate with readers who have lost friends or family members.” —USA Today

“Fascinating.” —Harper’s

“Poignant.” —New York Observer

“A harrowing tale, told with some restraint and sorrow.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“This is a book that makes you feel you should call the author and ask him to reassure you that he is O.K. . . . [Lukas] has held on to life and to the story of a lifetime.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A harrowing tale, told with some restraint and sorrow. . . . [Lukas] coped for better or worse with the sense of abandonment all his life, including the disappearance of his brilliant older brother, lost to demons of his own.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Christopher Lukas’ mother killed herself when he was 6. His brother, journalist J. Anthony Lukas, committed suicide 56 years later—but only after the author's grandmother, aunt, and uncle took their lives as well. . . . For fans of William Styron’s Darkness Visible.” —Entertainment Weekly

“This gentle story is a reminder that stopping such family legacies requires candor and courage. . . . [Suicide] is an accusation of all we did not do and a loss of all that was there. Lukas attempts to remedy both in this book, by bringing his family story into the light.” —Portland Oregonian

“In his searingly candid memoir, [Lukas] provides an anatomy of melancholy, examining the mysteries of bipolar disorder, acknowledging a lifelong fight with his own demons, and grieving over those who could not emerge from the dark night of the soul. . . . Blue Genes is more than an apt title; for those who are no strangers to the heritage of sadness, it’s an invaluable survivor’s manual.” —Stefan Kanfer, City Journal

Reeve Lindbergh
…a compassionate but clear-eyed view of his family history…With candor and courage Lukas writes that even now—10 years after his brother's death and more than 60 years after his mother's—he still has more questions than answers…But he speaks powerfully to survivors anyway
—The Washington Post
Roy Blount Jr.
I have never thought much of Holden Caulfield's notion that a good book makes you want to call the author on the phone, but this is a book that makes you feel you should call the author and ask him to reassure you that he is O.K. It is with great relief, then, that I can in all candor recommend Blue Genes (its title aside), on its merits. Its unusual merits. In a memoir these days we have come to expect a great read, a gripping yarn and profound doubt (sometimes even on the memoirist's part) as to how much of it is true. ("True" being defined as what the memoirist genuinely believes did happen.) Blue Genes, on the contrary, is oddly jointed and frequently goofy, and I believed every word of it.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In a supremely brave effort literally to save his own life, Lukas shatters the silence surrounding the long history of suicide in his Hungarian-German-Jewish family, especially that of his older brother, J. Anthony Lukas ("Tony"). Depression and what is now diagnosed as bipolar disorder hounded various family members, most notably the brothers' beautiful college-educated actress mother, Elizabeth, whose deepening depression, exacerbated no doubt by the sense of guilt and inadequacy in her marriage, led her to cut her own throat in 1941, when the boys were just six and eight. Lukas writes with the reassuring sagacity of hindsight, knowing the negative long-term effects of his mother's mental illness on his brother especially, but at the time her death was mysterious and devastating, and the brothers' relationship grew mutually needy and protective, on the one hand, and fractious and competitive, on the other. Feelings of betrayal, guilt and rage erupted at points during the successful careers for both brothers-Tony as a driven journalist with the New York Times and author (Common Ground) who won two Pulitzer prizes; and Christopher ("Kit"), an Emmy Award-winning TV producer, author and actor. For Tony, however, who married late, remained childless and took antidepressants, his illness was debilitating, leading him to suicide in 1997. In clear, forceful prose, the author attempts to make sense of these calamities and assert a life-affirming purpose. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Christopher and Tony Lukas's mother committed suicide when they were very young, but the boys were never told how she died-silence was the family's policy on its legacy of mental illness. Regardless, both brothers achieved great success in their fields (the author is a TV producer and director), and their bond was loving but fraught. Sadly, Tony, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his journalism, committed suicide in 1997. Those interested in how mental illness afflicts generations and how to find strength and hope in the face of it will find this remarkably honest memoir resonant. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/08.]-Elizabeth Brinkley

Kirkus Reviews
Elegant account of a family's persistent melancholy and the damage it wrought. When Lukas (Silent Grief, 1988) was six, his brilliant, mercurial and horribly depressed mother Elizabeth killed herself. When he was 62, his older brother, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony, committed suicide on the eve of the publication of his second book (Big Trouble, 1997). The author's uncle killed himself in his early 70s; Lukas's grandmother did the same in her 80s. After years of trying to make sense of his mother's death, which her sons didn't know was a suicide until years later, the author was faced with another mystery to unravel. In their childhood, he and his brother had never been close, or even similar. Tony took after their mother in temperament and coloring, inheriting the "blue genes"; Christopher (Kit) was known as "Master Sunshine." After Elizabeth's death, the boys were raised by their domineering but adoring grandmother and their elegant, but largely absent father Edwin. As they aged, Kit and Tony grew farther apart, until at times the damage to their relationship seemed irreparable. Lukas's recital of the family's depressed history includes an account of his mother's affair with an older, married man, which began when she was 13 and ended just before her marriage to Edwin. It provides a child's-eye view of Elizabeth's death and moves into the brothers' adulthood, when Tony became increasingly successful and unmoored. The more celebrated he was, his brother writes, the greater his need for admiration: "Tony's prizes and the thousands of plaudits for his work didn't fill up the hole in his soul." As Kit achieved his own success, he too realized how ultimately unsatisfying itcould be. Lukas movingly chronicles his own struggle to understand the darkness he suspects inside himself as well as the suicides of loved ones unable to cope with that darkness. Sweet, sad and sobering. Agent: Christine Tomasino/The Tomasino Agency
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767929011
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 808,749
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

CHRISTOPHER LUKAS has worked as a writer-producer-director in public and commercial television and won Emmy Awards for his programs. He is the author and coauthor of five books. Lukas has two grown daughters, and lives near New York City where he is continuing to make films, write books, and work as a film and stage actor.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

SOME PEOPLE ARE DISTURBED MOST by events that are unexpected.
For me, it has always been the half-awaited ones that carry the blow: the semiconscious fears that lurk behind closed eyes, the half-dropped pair of shoes, the what-ifs.

***

JUNE 5, 1997, 11:00 P.M.
Susan and I return home from a party. In an unusual show of activity, our answering machine has had eleven hang-ups and one message--from Linda, my sister-in-law.

"Christopher," she says, "can you call me, please."

Usually, no one calls me Christopher except strangers, but maybe Linda is echoing my brother, who sometimes calls me by my full name as a joke.

I make a mental note to call her tomorrow; it's too late tonight. I figure that she's probably planning a publication party for Tony, who has just finished his latest book, nine years in the writing.

The book before this one--Common Ground--resulted in his second Pulitzer Prize and dozens of other awards. One reporter called my brother "the best journalist of our generation." Another said he was "the patron saint of contemporary reporters." He has won numerous accolades for his reporting for the New York Times, has received honorary degrees for his deep analysis of crucial episodes in recent American history, and has been wined and dined by literati and academics alike. He is, in short, one of those remarkable men whose work received enormous respect and attention.

But Tony is not sure that the new book, a huge volume called Big Trouble, is up to his previous works. It's due out in a month or so, and we'll all have to wait.

While I'm at the closet, taking off my shoes, the phone rings again. Susan is near and she answers.
"Hello." A pause. "How?" Her voice is electric, alarmed. I recognize a disaster in the making.

I come around the corner of the closet, a shoe in one hand, the other still on my foot.
She looks at me, the phone to her ear, shaking her head, a look of terror on her face.

"What is it?" I ask, already feeling the pain begin.

"Tony killed himself," she says.

I scream and throw the undropped shoe at the far wall.

MOST BROTHERS HAVE SIBLING-RIVALRY PROBLEMS, interrupted by close bonding, but Tony and I always seemed to have great difficulty in finding common ground. The history of our family is partly responsible, a history full of self-destructive events.

In the wake of a family suicide, there is sorrow, guilt, despair--and anger. My reaction to my brother's death was no different; in fact, because of the difficult relationship we had had, it may have been worse.

During the first months after Tony's death, I viewed my life with him through the prism of anger. Why did he do this to me and to his family? If there had been good times in our years together, I didn't allow myself to remember them.

But gradually the truth seeped in: there was a whole store of other memories that I was hiding. I needed to make an effort to dredge up those experiences--the ones that had provided pleasure and comfort. To put a picture of our relationship in some kind of balance, if I could.

So, what would happen if I stopped thinking about all the rage I had for the way Tony had died and for the slights I had felt? What might occur if I recalled how much we had shared, what burdens we had lifted together, how we had supported each other? What then? I began writing about my family two weeks after my brother's death. At first, I could put down only a few thoughts about him, mostly about my anger and sorrow, but as the weeks and months went by, memories came--long-ago events that had been forgotten. Time passed; I would come back to the computer, put down new recollections. About us. About our relationship. I found memories of other family members, of the distant past, of things I thought had been obliterated forever. The mind is tricky: it brings back even the most distant feelings and events just when you think they have left you alone, left you in peace.

Today, more than a decade after Tony's death, I am still writing. But my idea of who my family and my brother were has changed over these years. The perception of who I was--and who I am--has also changed. So I keep writing. Trying to get it right.

A week after the suicide, when Susan, our daughters, Megan and Gabriela, and I attended a memorial gathering, Linda gave me a copy of Big Trouble, fresh off the presses. I turned the first few pages. In the dedication Tony had written, "To Christopher William Lukas. My brother, my friend."

That was an extraordinarily moving moment. I turned from the group around me and shielded my eyes, in tears. I had not had the slightest inkling Tony was dedicating the book to me. Nor could I have guessed that he would add "friend" to such a line. We were brothers--no doubt. But when all was said and done, were we really friends?

I decided I would start from there, from that emotional moment when it occurred to me that he really did care about me, that all the battles and absences and slights did not, in the end, seem to be as important as the fact that we were brothers--and friends. He had thought about me when he wrote that dedication. And perhaps he had thought about me even as he ended his own life.

***
CONFLATING THE PRESENT with the past is an old theme of philosophers. The idea of all chairs, said the philosopher William James, is present in the image of any particular chair. So any particular friend's essence is distilled by all the friends one has had.

And so it is with brothers. They are never what they appear to be to others, or even to oneself. Tony is a combination of past and present, of what he was and how I see him today.
But that is true of me as well. I am not merely the bald head in the mirror, the tired knees, and the naps in the afternoon. I am the sixteen-year-old with an enormous appetite, the twenty-two-year-old having his first real love affair, the thirty-three-year-old looking down at his first child.

Sister to sister, brother to brother, siblings can never be 100 percent fair about love and parental sharing and other sharp facets of the bright and painful lives they have together--even when much of that time is spent apart, even when they can communicate well and take the burdens of their relationship with good grace. I could not pretend that my brother and I were pals. Friends, perhaps, but not buddies.

Tony and I are brothers across the stroboscopic echoes of the past: dissolving across black interludes into the next image, and the next, and the next, until all vestige of pure vision is destroyed. All that is left is memory, and we know how faulty that can be. Who Tony was is forever blurred by who I was and how I remember who I thought Tony was. Yes, we are brothers in fact, in memory, and in wish, but he is dead, and I am alive--left to dwell on the questions, and to seek the answers.

There were questions of great importance to me: Would I, too, end up killing myself? Was the legacy of self-destruction I would discover in my family too great for me to survive? If so, when would the pendulum swing? And if it never did, why not? How could I--almost alone among my family--escape?
To answer these questions, I needed to go back and delve more deeply into my family and explore my relationship with Tony.

This is a story of two brothers in a particular family at a particular time in the history of that family. If the tale often appears to be as much about my parents and grandparents--and my emotions, my life, and my memories--as it is about my brother, it is because it is very much a story about relationships. The relationship my father had with my mother, the relationship of my mother to her parents. Mine with Tony, Tony's with those other people.

Beyond that, it is also a book about coming to terms with the suicide of a brother--an event I had written about previously when it happened to other people, but never before experienced for myself.

***

THE LETTERS, autobiographies, and other written notes have lain for decades in cubbyholes in an old rolltop desk that Susan and I bought on a trip to my uncle Ira's house near Philadelphia. The desk cost $40. At the time, I thought it was too much money to pay for an "old piece of furniture," but as usual Susan was right: you can always use a schoolmaster's rolltop.

Today, I love that desk. This is where the detritus of our lives lies. With nineteenth-century wisdom, its makers built it with myriad slots in which to stow important pieces of their complex lives. Into those compartments I have put the passports used for various family trips--their photographs attesting to the passage of time, change of hairstyles, even emotional states. I see Susan in early years, with downcast aspect, her hair tightly wrapped around her slender head, a strained smile on her face. I see her later, lovely brown tresses surrounding a confident, smiling countenance. And later still, the strands and flecks of gray shining in the sunlight of a photo I took myself. My own visages: young and shaven, a boy on the go; leather shirt from the 1960s; sideburns in the 1970s; finally, balding pate--"aging criminal on the go," the family said, jokingly.

Here in this desk went the birth certificates of our daughters, Megan and Gabriela, audiotapes of graduations and memorial services. Old keys. Legal documents. Currency from trips abroad. Broken pens. Broken promises.

It is through that desk, and from long-hidden events, that my memory is awakened. I take comfort that I can substantiate there the fact that Tony was not just a brother worth thinking about and arguing over on a personal basis but a complex, world-class character whose contributions to journalism and to his friends were valuable and whose death by his own hand is made all the more heartbreaking because it was not preordained.

Or was it?

What do I really know about the past? What do any of us know? Who were these characters? What led up to the deaths in my family? In truth, I was woefully ignorant--and, to be honest, fearful of finding out.

Chapter Two

MY PATERNAL GRANDFATHER, Samuel William Lukacs (or Lukacs Samu, as the Hungarians say), was a character to be reckoned with. He died crossing the Bowery in New York in 1927, well before I was born. I discovered this fact early one afternoon when Susan and I took Dad to the Nam Wah tea parlor in Chinatown. Nam Wah is the oldest dim sum restaurant in New York.

Leaving the tea parlor, where Dad had gagged on the food ("Don't they have orange juice and eggs, for Christ's sake?"), we started to cross the Bowery, that broad avenue that used to be known for its bums and drunkards. Suddenly Dad stopped in the middle and looked up and down the street. It was hot, he had eaten little, had had too much to drink the night before, and was in a foul mood, hungover. But at that moment, a strange, reflective, almost nostalgic look came over him.
"I think it was about here," he said.

"What?"

"The bus hit my father."

I had never heard about this accident. In fact, my father had never talked about his father, and while I found this strange--even baffling--having no guidelines about such matters, I never questioned him about his family past. Now Dad looked around, checked landmarks, nodded his head. We went on to catch a taxi so he could get uptown and have a "real breakfast."

Dad's younger sister, Aunt Judy (Julia), surprised Tony and me when we were in our forties by relating how she had spent time at a Hearst paper in New York, writing advice to the lovelorn, when she was only nineteen. She had signed on to the paper in 1925 to do typing, but the woman who wrote the advice column was a friend of Mrs. Hearst's, and the two decided to take a world cruise. The editor told my aunt to write the column. Forget the fact that Judy was a naive young woman with no experience in the world of love or the lovelorn. Perhaps it explains her behavior in later life (she knew Tolstoy and Melville, but nothing about sex and love affairs). She agreed to take on the assignment.

Jump forward fifty years. Aunt Judy, horrified to hear how little I knew about my roots, takes to the typewriter again and writes me a long letter about the Lukas clan. Past--and present. It is very evocative.

Here is some of what I learned from her about the foreigners called Lukacs (the c was dropped when they emigrated to the United States).

Before World War I, Nagyvarad was the biggest city in eastern Hungary. That's where Samuel was born in 1865. Nagyvarad is in Transylvania--Dracula country--and was tossed back and forth between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Romania for decades, depending on who won which war.
Like most Hungarian Jews, Samuel's family were Reform Jews, which meant occasional attendance at synagogue. At the turn of the century, Hungary had a fast-growing economy, and Jews were to be found in every aspect of business and commerce. In Budapest, every fourth person was a Jew.

Hungarian Jews were preeminent in math and fencing, but in Nagyvarad they were famous in other arenas as well. They taught, they discussed politics, they thought about the big picture. Samuel's family owned a cafeŽ, so it was natural that he, even at a young age, joined his elders and sat in cafes, talking big talk. Aunt Judy said, "Father belonged in a cafeŽ. He had all the qualities to make him popular there: he drank, he smoked, he laughed, he sang, he told endless stories with dramatic flair, he played cards; he teased the girls--young and old--and the girls, young and old, liked to flirt with him."

One of Samuel Lukacs's nephews was Paul Lukas, who became a famous actor, playing Shakespeare in Budapest when he was in his early twenties and later migrating to the United States. He, too, was popular with women, and in the 1920s barnstormed in small planes across the United States as he took work in both Hollywood and New York. Cousin Paul won an Academy Award for his portrayal of an anti-Nazi hero in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine and was on Broadway in numerous plays, including Call Me Madam with Ethel Merman. Tony and I used to go see him and have dinner afterward. There was some dissent about him in the family, since he had converted to Catholicism back in Hungary, but he was too talented to ignore. Besides, it was thrilling to have a famous person in our family.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Christopher (Kit) Lukas grew up in the shadow of tragedy, struggling to cope with a family legacy of mental illness. Raised in an era when children were often sheltered from the truth, he knew few details about his mother's death (she killed herself)—only that the tender, loving woman who had cared for him was gone. Kit's stoic father eventually remarried, shutting the door on a troubled past. Years later, Kit would try to piece together more of the story, attempting to understand what led his mother to become suicidal, and how her depression had affected those around her. He managed to find solace and hope in life, ultimately writing Silent Grief, an invaluable guide to surviving a loved one's suicide. But Kit's brother, the award-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas, continually showed signs of the debilitating melancholia that had shrouded their mother. Despite a sterling career, including two Pulitzer Prizes (one for the now classic  Common Ground) Tony took his life in 1997, shortly before the publication of Big Trouble, a book that would go on to win acclaim.

Raising fundamental questions about the nature of family ties and the often fragile dance between despair and joy, Blue Genes is ultimately a profound meditation on healing. The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Christopher Lukas's memoir. We hope they will enrich your experience of this powerful work.
Read More Show Less

Foreword

1. What does Kit Lukas's memoir demonstrate about the potential bonds between brothers? How does his relationship with Tony compare to the way you interact with your siblings?

2. What did those special childhood years with Elizabeth mean to both boys? What experiences were they able to savor because of their youth? What aspects of their life were made more painful because they were so young when she died?

3. Were you surprised to discover some of the treatments that were once administered to patients with Elizabeth's condition? How did society's response to conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder make the situation worse? Were there any benefits to these early-twentieth-century approaches?

4. What did Edwin teach his sons about becoming men, and about marriage?

5. What sense of family legacy did Missy provide to Kit and Tony? Who was the best source of maternal love for the boys after their mother's death?

6. What was Aunt Judy's role in the boys' lives? How did they respond to her eccentricities and creativity, paired with her financial dependence on others? Who is the Aunt Judy in your family history?

7. As gifted writers, how did Kit and Tony view the world? What perceptive abilities and sensitivities did they possess as a result of their vocations? How might these recollections have unfolded if it had been written by Tony?

8. How has our understanding of children and parenting changed over the years? When you were growing up, were children permitted to grieve and participate in other realities of the adult world? Would Kit and Tony have led different lives if, as children, they had been able to speak honestly about the loss oftheir mother?

9. What accounts for the differences between Kit and Tony's approaches to dating and marriage? To what degree were their personal lives shaped by nature versus nurture?

10. What was the role of psychoanalysis for Kit? What did he discover about himself and his family? What gave him the wisdom to seek help? What made him a good candidate for this type of therapy?

11. Slowly growing apart as they grew older, Kit and Tony faced competitiveness, misunderstandings, and frustration with each other. Did their shared history drive them apart, or was it the one constant that kept them together?

12. After his brother's death, Kit contemplated many significant questions, captured in his book's closing pages: How did he manage to survive while his brother did not? Was he his brother's keeper? Discuss your reactions to these questions. Ultimately, how much control do we have over our destinies, and the destinies of those we love?

13. Did Kit Lukas's recollections help you come to terms with tragedies in your own life? Are there unmentionable chapters in your family's history? What would it take to discuss them openly, and to heal from the pain associated with those secrets?

14. What universal aspects of American culture and history are captured in this very personal true story? What makes Blue Genes unique compared to other memoirs of loss?


10 FAST FACTS ABOUT SUICIDE
1. Men take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of women. However, during their lifetime, women attempt suicide about two to three times as often as men.

2. In 2006, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death for all ages; more than 33,000 suicides occurred in the United States, which is the equivalent of 91 suicides per day, and one suicide every sixteen minutes. Moreover, for every two homicides in the United States, three people die of suicide.

3. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 35-year olds, and the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year olds. Yet, suicide rates are highest among those aged 75 and older.

4. In 2008, 140 American soldiers committed suicide, breaking all previous suicide records in the military. In the first four months of 2009, 91 soldiers committed suicide. If this rate continues, by the end of the year more than 270 soldiers will have killed themselves.

5. The spring months of March, April and May have consistently shown to have the highest suicide rate. December and the holiday have actually been shown to be below average; some studies also suggest the season affects suicide rates more in rural areas.

6. Four out of five people who commit suicide have attempted to kill themselves at least once previously.

7. Suicide rates tend to reflect economic conditions. In the United States, suicide rates declined during the prosperous years after WWI and WWII, but rose during the Great Depression. Also, the rates tend to decrease during times of war.

8. Experts believe that early exposure to child abuse increases the likelihood that an adult will take their own life. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that individuals with a family history of suicide, especially children of parents who commit suicide, are at a higher risk to commit suicide themselves.

9. Divorced people are three times as likely to commit suicide as those who are married. Moreover, divorced and separated men are two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than married men; the same does not hold true for divorced and separated women.

10. The odds that potentially suicidal adolescents will kill themselves double when a gun is kept in the home.

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

In Conversation With Christopher Lukas
Author Of BLUE GENES: A Memoir Of Loss And Survival

Can you sum up BLUE GENES for me in a few words?
It’s about a talented family - my own - plagued by poisonous genes; how that talent continued to function, despite generations of depression and bipolar disorder. How my mother and four other family members killed themselves during my lifetime.

It’s about the relationship between my brother and myself - a complicated on-again-off-again tangle of feelings. And it’s also about looking back with sadness, but living with as much zest as possible. In others words, trying to keep going. Trying to find hope in the middle of disaster.

Why did you feel you had to write it?
Deep feelings - like loss and abandonment - often don’t go away; they bedevil people. Many years ago, when my mother killed herself and I was, in essence, abandoned. I didn’t know I could write to exorcise or even talk to explore the feelings of loss until I was in my 40’s. My brother was a writer; my wife was a writer. I wasn’t a writer. Then I started feeling I had to write whenever depression got to me (and there was a lot of depression.)

When my brother killed himself 11 years ago, I immediately knew I had to write about it. It took me years to see what the whole picture was. But I had to write, or I wouldn’t have survived.

You say in this book, and in a previous one you wrote for survivors left behind by suicide, that no one was honest with you when your mother killed herself; not for ten years. What do you think your reaction would have been if they had been? And do you think it ever makes sense not to be honest with children about suicide?
I was six. With small children, less is more. But something should have been said. Each parent has to figure that out for him or herself, and it depends on the child. But here’s the main point: Since they were so frightened of dealing with the facts, my father and grandmother ignored the immense imagination of small children. Why weren’t they open with me, I thought? Aha, it’s because I caused my mother’s death. Had they said something - anything - such as “You are a good boy. Little boys sometimes think their behavior causes bad things to happen, but your mother’s death was not your fault,” and left it there until I asked for more information, that would be fine.

You ask what my reaction would have been if my elders had been open and honest. For one thing, since they didn’t talk about my mother or her death, I thought they didn’t care! And I would have thought “hey, I’m allowed to ask about this precious mother whom I lost.”

With so much sadness around you and with your own issues with depression, how did you make it through the tough times in your life?
The short answer is: very good luck.

Here’s how I look at it. The genes we inherit help determine our character. Some children are born happy: they smile, the respond to their environment. Some seem less so. How their environment then treats them helps govern how they grow and change. Sometimes traumatic things happen and the “happy” child - through the luck of good genetic loading - survives better than the “gloomy” child. Sometimes, persistence, talent and survival skills are in the character a child is born with.

And, as in my case, even when there are skills you can learn, luck plays a huge role. I was lucky to find good psychotherapist. I was lucky to find a woman to spend my life with who had strength and vibrancy and the ability to withstand all my depressions. And that isn’t easy - to put up with years of depression in your husband. I was lucky that the bipolar “genes” weren’t passed to me. I was unlucky to have so many people in my life kill themselves. I was unlucky to be depressed off and on most of my life. But the good luck outpaced the bad luck.

What do you hope people will learn from your story?
It’s funny. I’ve never thought anyone would learn anything. It was simply a story I had to tell. But, I hope they’ll learn that some of the bad things that happen in a person’s life are not their fault. That bad things happen to people. I’m talking about things that happen to us outside of our ability to control. I hope they come away with some hope.

Also: I am a big pusher for talking about grief and other things that frighten or sadden us. Keep the dialogue open, whether with adults or children. Finally, I want people to know that survival in the middle of trauma or grief or war often seems impossible, but that - with luck, support, and good will - it’s actually often possible to come out the other side.

If your brother were alive, what stories would you and he be writing about today?
Tony would be on the campaign trail, I think, but not the same tack that everyone else is taking. He’d want to go into deep background about some aspect that no one else is covering: maybe a town in the middle of the country where people have needs that no one is addressing. I don’t really know, because his talent was finding stories that no one else could find.

And you? What will you write about next?
I’m not sure. I have a play about my 16 years of dealing with cancer - radiation, chemotherapy, the whole shebang - that got a good workshop performance some months back and I want to expand that and get it produced. It has only one actor in it - me. But now, after my wife’s sudden and unexpected death last April, and the profound loss that inflicted on my daughters, my wife’s friends and family, and myself, I think I have to write about her. What form that will take, I don’t know. But I don’t think I’ll be satisfied until I’ve done that.

You already have something about her at the end of Blue Genes…
Yes, but that’s short. Kind of a eulogy. I want to try to write to purge my grief. To honor her. To come to terms with the pain of grief. If I’m going to continue to live a life that’s meaningful and supportive of my two grown daughters, of my grandchildren, I have to do what I’ve always done: express my pain in the open.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. What does Kit Lukas's memoir demonstrate about the potential bonds between brothers? How does his relationship with Tony compare to the way you interact with your siblings?

2. What did those special childhood years with Elizabeth mean to both boys? What experiences were they able to savor because of their youth? What aspects of their life were made more painful because they were so young when she died?

3. Were you surprised to discover some of the treatments that were once administered to patients with Elizabeth's condition? How did society's response to conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder make the situation worse? Were there any benefits to these early-twentieth-century approaches?

4. What did Edwin teach his sons about becoming men, and about marriage?

5. What sense of family legacy did Missy provide to Kit and Tony? Who was the best source of maternal love for the boys after their mother's death?

6. What was Aunt Judy's role in the boys' lives? How did they respond to her eccentricities and creativity, paired with her financial dependence on others? Who is the Aunt Judy in your family history?

7. As gifted writers, how did Kit and Tony view the world? What perceptive abilities and sensitivities did they possess as a result of their vocations? How might these recollections have unfolded if it had been written by Tony?

8. How has our understanding of children and parenting changed over the years? When you were growing up, were children permitted to grieve and participate in other realities of the adult world? Would Kit and Tony have led different lives if, as children, they had been able to speak honestly about the loss of their mother?

9. What accounts for the differences between Kit and Tony's approaches to dating and marriage? To what degree were their personal lives shaped by nature versus nurture?

10. What was the role of psychoanalysis for Kit? What did he discover about himself and his family? What gave him the wisdom to seek help? What made him a good candidate for this type of therapy?

11. Slowly growing apart as they grew older, Kit and Tony faced competitiveness, misunderstandings, and frustration with each other. Did their shared history drive them apart, or was it the one constant that kept them together?

12. After his brother's death, Kit contemplated many significant questions, captured in his book's closing pages: How did he manage to survive while his brother did not? Was he his brother's keeper? Discuss your reactions to these questions. Ultimately, how much control do we have over our destinies, and the destinies of those we love?

13. Did Kit Lukas's recollections help you come to terms with tragedies in your own life? Are there unmentionable chapters in your family's history? What would it take to discuss them openly, and to heal from the pain associated with those secrets?

14. What universal aspects of American culture and history are captured in this very personal true story? What makes Blue Genes unique compared to other memoirs of loss?

10 FAST FACTS ABOUT SUICIDE
1. Men take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of women. However, during their lifetime, women attempt suicide about two to three times as often as men.

2. In 2006, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death for all ages; more than 33,000 suicides occurred in the United States, which is the equivalent of 91 suicides per day, and one suicide every sixteen minutes. Moreover, for every two homicides in the United States, three people die of suicide.

3. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 35-year olds, and the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year olds. Yet, suicide rates are highest among those aged 75 and older.

4. In 2008, 140 American soldiers committed suicide, breaking all previous suicide records in the military. In the first four months of 2009, 91 soldiers committed suicide. If this rate continues, by the end of the year more than 270 soldiers will have killed themselves.

5. The spring months of March, April and May have consistently shown to have the highest suicide rate. December and the holiday have actually been shown to be below average; some studies also suggest the season affects suicide rates more in rural areas.

6. Four out of five people who commit suicide have attempted to kill themselves at least once previously.

7. Suicide rates tend to reflect economic conditions. In the United States, suicide rates declined during the prosperous years after WWI and WWII, but rose during the Great Depression. Also, the rates tend to decrease during times of war.

8. Experts believe that early exposure to child abuse increases the likelihood that an adult will take their own life. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that individuals with a family history of suicide, especially children of parents who commit suicide, are at a higher risk to commit suicide themselves.

9. Divorced people are three times as likely to commit suicide as those who are married. Moreover, divorced and separated men are two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than married men; the same does not hold true for divorced and separated women.

10. The odds that potentially suicidal adolescents will kill themselves double when a gun is kept in the home.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(2)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 8, 2009

    "A memoir of loss and survival"

    I read Blue Genes and I think if you like books about suicide and death, you should read this book. The main character is Christopher Lukacs (the c before s is dropped when he moves to America) and he is from London. He was born somewhere in the 1920s or 1930s. I thought the book was pretty creepy and disturbing because of some bad language and was detailed but you can deal with that. The book was published in 2008. The whole book is basically how Christopher lives his life with his suicidal family. He wants to know why his family is committing suicide and why they are dying, but everyone that he knows either won't tell him or they don't know (because they are trying to protect him). Both brothers achieved remarkable success Tony was a great journalist and Kit (Christopher Lukas) is an accomplished television producer and director. So, this book was about Tony committing suicide and Kit and Tony lived together as kids.
    Many people die in this book and it's kind of violent. I think the age group would be around 15 and up because of the words used that you should not know and their definitions. The good parts about this book were wondering who was going to die next and how will the ending turn out but the bad parts were the disturbing features and some of the bad events. If you can deal with these kinds of things you should read some other suicidal books too. In conclusion, I would rate this book 2 out of 5 (wow)!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2009

    Blue Genes

    I found this book to be interesting. Often times people just want the reason why people commit these acts. When in fact the person that is not around any longer is the only one with the answers. No matter if there is a letter or not, one will never really be able to comprehend what is going through their mind. their strength and weaknesses. This was not a tough read, but it does make one think. It was well written in my opinion.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2008

    Not a great book for me.

    Late one night Christopher (Kit) Lukas received a phone call with news that his brother, the gifted journalist J. Anthony Lukas, had committed suicide. Tragically their mother also committed suicide when they were young boys. Kit and his brother were never told how she died and no one spoke of the family¿s history of depression and bipolar disorder. The legacy of guilt and grief haunted Kit and Tony throughout their lives. Despite both brothers achieving remarkable success, Tony as a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, they suffered bouts of depression. Kit was able to confront his family¿s troubled past and find happiness but Tony remained depressed which ultimately led him to take his own life. Being that this book was a memoir I just couldn¿t connect with any of the characters. It may have helped if I was familiar with Tony¿s writing or felt some sort of connection to the brothers but the writing just didn¿t pull me in. I feel this was more personal for Kit than a story that needed to be shared. I can see where the book might be helpful for anyone who has been affected by a loved one¿s suicide but it just didn¿t click for me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)