Denial: A Memoir of Terror

Overview

"I have listened and I have been quiet all my life. But now I will speak."

One of the world's foremost experts on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder investigates her own unsolved adolescent sexual assault at the hands of a serial rapist, and in so doing, examines the horrors of trauma and denial.

Alone in an unlocked house in a safe neighborhood in the suburban town of Concord, Massachusetts, two good, obedient girls, Jessica Stern, fifteen, and her sister, fourteen,...

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Overview

"I have listened and I have been quiet all my life. But now I will speak."

One of the world's foremost experts on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder investigates her own unsolved adolescent sexual assault at the hands of a serial rapist, and in so doing, examines the horrors of trauma and denial.

Alone in an unlocked house in a safe neighborhood in the suburban town of Concord, Massachusetts, two good, obedient girls, Jessica Stern, fifteen, and her sister, fourteen, were raped on the night of October 1, 1973. The girls had just come back from ballet lessons and were doing their homework when a strange man armed with a gun entered their home. Afterward, when they reported the crime, the police were skeptical.

The rapist was never caught. For over thirty years, Stern denied the pain and the trauma of the assault. Following the example of her family, Stern—who lost her mother at the age of three, and whose father was a Holocaust survivor—focused on her work instead of her terror. She became a world-class expert on terrorism, a lauded academic and writer who interviewed terrorists around the globe. But while her career took off, her success hinged on her symptoms. After her ordeal she could not feel fear in normally frightening situations.

Stern believed she'd disassociated from the trauma altogether, until a devoted police lieutenant reopened the sisters' rape case and brought her back to that harrowing night more than three decades past. With the help of the lieutenant, Stern began her own investigation—bringing to bear all her skills as a researcher—to uncover the truth about the town of Concord, her family, and her own mind. The result is Denial, a candid, courageous, and ultimately hopeful look at a trauma and its aftermath.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this skillfully wrought, powerful study, a terrorism expert, national security adviser (The Ultimate Terrorists), and lecturer at Harvard, returns to a definitive episode of terror in her own early life and traces its grim, damaging ramifications. Having grown up in Concord, Mass., in 1973, Stern, then 15, and her sister, a year younger, were forcibly raped at gunpoint by an unknown intruder; when the police reopened the case in 2006, Stern was compelled to confront the devastating experience. The police initially tied the case to a local serial rapist, who served 18 years in prison before hanging himself. Stern's painful journey takes her back to the traumatic aftershocks of the rape, when she began to affect a “stern, hard” veneer not unlike the stiff-upper-lip approach to survival her own German-born Jewish father had assumed after his childhood years living through Nazi persecution. Covering up her deep-seated sense of shame with entrenched silence, Stern had a classic post-traumatic stress disorder—which she was only able to recognize after her own work interviewing terrorists. Stern's work is a strong, clear-eyed, elucidating study of the profound reverberations of trauma. (July)
Booklist
"Wonderfully compassionate, absorbing reading for anyone."
Vogue
“This month’s must-read nonfiction: terrorism expert Jessica Stern’s DENIAL: A Memoir of Terror which opens the decades-old file of a crime committed against Stern as a teen, launching her on a gutsy investigation into the ways in which trauma is perpetuated.”
Elle
“[A] stunningly brave book.”
New York Times
“DENIAL [is] a profound human document… it is hot to the touch in ways that are both memorable and disturbing.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[An] eloquent, vital book. . .brilliant [and] indispensable.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Wonderfully compassionate, absorbing reading for anyone.”
Philadelphia Tribune
“…An intense and honest examination…DENIAL is a touching portrait of how the after affects of trauma can influence the personal and professional life of its victim.”
Time magazine
“a compelling investigation into her own life, the life of the serial rapist who committed at least 44 similar crimes and the way trauma affects everyone it touches, sometimes in surprisingly positive ways.”
Washington Post
“[Denial is a] powerfully constructed memoir … [an] incandescently honest book…”
Providence Journal
“An extraordinary memoir conveys Stern’s process of denial, dissociation, and healing in her dawning realization of intolerable truths.”
New York Times Book Review
“[Stern’s] commitment to introspection makes for a book that is memorably searing…”
Boston Globe
“[Stern’s rapist] whose chaotic life and whose own probable victimization Stern reconstructs, caused her lifelong anguish. She doesn’t simply tell us so but shows us in shattered, artfully repetitive narration.”
Time Magazine
"a compelling investigation into her own life, the life of the serial rapist who committed at least 44 similar crimes and the way trauma affects everyone it touches, sometimes in surprisingly positive ways."
Howard Gardner
“Jessica Stern has written a remarkable book, unlike any that I’ve read. This deeply personal and often painful reflection documents the costs of personal, familial, and community silence as well as the liberating effects of truthful testimony.”
Naomi Wolf
“One of the most important books I have read in a decade….Brave, life changing and gripping as a thriller...A tour de force.”
Susanna Moore
“[A] harrowing memoir of a girl whom trauma has taught to distrust herself and who learns to live with the idea of her helplessness...an appeal to compassion and forgiveness, rather than a condemnation of the destructive impulses that haunt each of us.”
Doctor - Bessel van der Kolk
"A masterpiece. A remarkable human journey from confusion and doubt to clarity and perspective."
Edward R. Shapiro
“An unflinchingly courageous self-examination... riveting and brilliantly told story... The book will be illuminating for victims and survivors of trauma, those who work or live with them, family members with generational histories of trauma, and for those who care about how our histories shape our lives.”
Louise Richardson
“A memorable, powerful and deeply courageous book, DENIAL is also a riveting read... With devastating honesty [Stern] explores the impact of trauma on victims and those close to them, and the costs of denial for both.”
Eliza Griswold
“[Denial] will allow people into parts of themselves they didn’t ven knew they had. Parts full of rage, of terror, of pride in their own detachment... For anyone who has lived at proximity to violence, it is one of the most necessary accounts of our time.”
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
“A masterpiece. A remarkable human journey from confusion and doubt to clarity and perspective.”
Elle
“[A] stunningly brave book.”
Vogue
“This month’s must-read nonfiction: terrorism expert Jessica Stern’s DENIAL: A Memoir of Terror which opens the decades-old file of a crime committed against Stern as a teen, launching her on a gutsy investigation into the ways in which trauma is perpetuated.”
New York Times
“DENIAL [is] a profound human document… it is hot to the touch in ways that are both memorable and disturbing.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[An] eloquent, vital book. . .brilliant [and] indispensable.”
Elle
“[A] stunningly brave book.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Wonderfully compassionate, absorbing reading for anyone.”
Kirkus Reviews
Terrorism expert Stern (Law/Harvard Univ.; Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, 2003, etc.) writes about her own experience as a target of terror. When the author was 15, she and her 14-year-old sister were raped, and the rapist was never caught. Forty years later, the case was reopened and the perpetrator, thought to have raped as many as 44 girls between the ages of nine and 19, was identified. Though he had died several years earlier, Stern felt the need to investigate him. Through her explorations, she found more than just a sense of who he was. She discovered explanations for her ability to maintain calm in moments of extreme danger, her tendency to experience enormous anxiety in normally nonthreatening situations and why she may have chosen her specific career path. Stern is just as revealing about deeply held family secrets, including revelations about her mother's early death, her father's childhood as a Holocaust survivor and the philandering of, and Stern's potential molestation by, her grandfather. Most moving is the author's contemplation of denial itself, and its effect of re-victimizing the victim. Though the narrative continually threatens to spiral into stream-of-consciousness ramblings, Stern always manages to hold it together, thus lending a sense of the floating dissociation she often feels while still holding the narrative together as a cohesive whole. She successfully unearths difficult emotional terrain without sinking into utter subjectivity and maintains an orderly progression without becoming clinical. A disturbing, captivating memoir. Author appearances in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C.
Dwight Garner
…Ms. Stern's plainspoken and very raw account of why, long before 9/11, she was driven to study terrorism …It is possible to…consider Denial a profound human document without considering it a profound literary one. It lacks allusiveness and distance. It is hot to the touch in ways that are both memorable and disturbing.
—The New York Times
Marie Arana
According to Stern, the curse of rape—which she strips to its root—is that it teaches you to feel less and less of the world around you. She has trained herself to be a sharp-eyed observer, capable of registering the subtlest gestures, the slightest shifts in emotion, but when it comes to confronting her own demons, she found herself saying, "I will feel about this later." Being "stern and hard" is so natural to her by now that a more human reaction—writing this incandescently honest book, for instance—"takes an act of will."
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061626654
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/22/2010
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Stern lectures on terrorism and is a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. She holds a doctorate in public policy from Harvard. She served as a staff member at the National Security Council during the Clinton admin-istration. A 2009–2010 Guggenheim Fellow, she was selected by Time in 2001 as one of seven thinkers whose innovative ideas "will change the world." Stern is the author of the New York Times Notable Book Terror in the Name of God and The Ultimate Terrorists. She lives with her husband and son in Massachusetts.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Every woman should read this book.

    Jessica Stern delivers a naked and frank psychological tour of her personal experience with terror and how power is derived or surrendered in this captivating memoir. Well-written and critically examined, she explores her own rape at the age of fifteen, and then pursues understanding of the man who committed the heinous act. The beauty of the book isn't in the prose so much as the authentic, uncensored honesty of her thoughts and experiences as she discovers more about the man who committed the crime. This exploration of her assailant reveals just how prevalent terror crimes are in our first world country, and how it is more comfortable for so many to deny they ever happened.

    Referencing experience in interrogating terrorists as a living, she takes the reader through her own personal discovery of the horrible things she endured as a young woman, and how those encounters had a lasting impact on her life. The most captivating part is just how honest she is about her feelings. Sometimes you want to protect her because she makes herself so vulnerable. Sometimes you want to detest her for not being more sympathetic, and yet you cannot help but learn from her as she shows how power is taken over and over again as long as a person chooses to remain a victim.

    This book was tough to read at times, embarrassing at others, and completely compelling. I would recommend this book to any woman, especially if she has suffered terror at the hands of a man.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 30, 2010

    Intriguing Tale of Revisiting a Past Crime

    Although this book is fundamentally the account of one woman's brave attempt to revisit and make sense out of an utterly senseless act of violence that had been committed against her, her sister and many other women over three decades ago, it also offers much more. It is in this light, viewing her memoir as multiple interwoven stories, that the reader should approach this book; and by doing so the brilliance of the message will come through. People hurt by trauma, either on the battlefield or in the bedroom, recover (or try to recover) in various ways. Some appear fine on the outside, yet still suffer silently.
    With her expertise in terrorism (and the prior hard work and persistence of a policeman), Stern reviews the police report and sets off to collect her own data (as she "loves to bathe" in data) by interviewing acquaintances, friends and a victim of her rapist as well as certain members of her own family. Will it help her to understand the rapist's motivation? His upbringing? Perhaps as a child he had been sexually abused by a Catholic priest? Or so Stern wonders.

    Some of Stern's observations and feelings of anger are blunt and intense, but such feelings show her honesty and respect for the reader who does not want a filtered reality. But there are limits to Stern's openness; feelings of vulnerability still prevent her from disclosing certain aspects of her identity, and understandably so.

    There are several surprising twists in these stories of Stern's journey. For example, a voice from the past appears in the form of a letter, a voice that is witness to a childhood event of Stern's many years before the rape. Could the same person who had unknowingly contributed to the death of Stern's mother also have played a negative role in Stern's development? Could love and anger, sex and violation, all be mixed in one?

    After having read this book I found it at a local Barnes & Noble store in their "True Crime" section. I think that is poor choice of location. "True Psychology" would have been a better location as this book is truly an attempt to help individuals still dealing with their own demons of trauma.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    How would you handle life when you find out the rape you were involved in years ago was now the work of a serial rapist?

    Alone in an unlocked house in a safe neighborhood in the suburban town of Concord, Massachusetts, two obedient, good girls, Jessica Stern, fifteen, and her sister, fourteen, were raped on the night of October 1 1973. When they reported the crime, the police were skeptical.

    Following the example of her family, Stern - who lost her mother at the age of three - denied her pain and kept striving to achieve. But while her career took off, her success hinged on her symptoms. After her ordeal, she could not feel fear in normally frightening situations. Stern thought she disassociated from the trauma altogether, until a request took her back to that night more than thirty years earlier.

    The world-class expert on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder began her own investigation, with the help of a devoted police lieutenant, to find the truth about her rapist, the town of Concord, her own family, and her own mind. The result is Denial, a candid and deeply intimate look at a life, a trauma, and its aftermath. (excerpt from back cover).

    My Review:

    This is a difficult book to read without getting emotionally involved with Jessica's story of the traumatic rape her and her sister experienced in 1973. The details are real and vivid as she uncovers the hidden triggers in her own life that take her back to a time she disconnected from herself in hopes of putting all the pieces back together. Jessica is working with Paul, a police lieutenant that reopens this case based on evidence he discovers that leads to 44 more rapes that occurred in the same area by what they now believe was a serial rapist.

    The story takes a turn when Jessica herself learns the story of from her father when questioning him for the book why he didn't come home from Norway after learning of their rape like he should have. She never questions her families role in learning of her rape, whether its to push it under the table and move forward in life or why the police even doubt that the rape occurs after reading the full account of the crime. We learn that her father grew up in Germany at the time of the Nazi regime and even then was threatened and beaten as a child for being a Jew, so you think that alone would make him sensitive to the needs of both of his daughters during the rape. Yet we have to remember that he doubts whether it really happens even after he reads the full report.

    This is a really powerful memoir and shows how some people can deal with a traumatic event and still lead seemingly normal lives on the outside while turmoils boils under the surface. It also details for you what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is really like for someone living with it while appearing normal on the outside to the rest of the world around them.

    I received Denial, A Memoir of Terror by Jessica Stern, compliments of TLC Book Tours and once again am amazed at the courage it took her to investigate her own rape and subsequent stories surrounding the people involved in her life at the time.

    If you would like more information about this book, the author and where to purchase a copy, click on the link below:

    http://tlcbooktours.com/2010/03/jessica-stern-author-of-denial-a-memoir-of-terror-on-tour-junejuly-2010/

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted July 20, 2010

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    Posted July 6, 2010

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