by Judith Hillman Paterson
University of Alabama Press, 2020
eISBN: 978-0-8173-9268-0 | Paper: 978-0-8173-5960-7
Library of Congress Classification F334.M753P39 2019
Dewey Decimal Classification 976.147062092

An exquisitely written memoir—combining sorrow and joy, anger and forgiveness, suffering and healing—that affirms the resilience and strength that imbue the human spirit

Judith Paterson was just nine years old in 1946 when her mother died of a virulent combination of alcoholism and mental illness at the age of 31. Sweet Mystery: A Book of Remembering is Paterson’s harrowing account of the memories of her mother, told with eloquence and understanding. Set largely in Montgomery, Alabama, the story plays out against a backdrop of relatives troubled almost as much by southern conflicts over race and class as by the fallout from a long family history of drinking, denial, and mental illness.

While rich in the details and flavor of small-town life in the South during the 1940s, Sweet Mystery transcends time and regionalism to evoke universal American themes. Ultimately, it confirms the damaging effects of early trauma on children as well as the innate and familial strengths that enable some children to survive, grow up, and heal.

Originally published in 1996 to critical acclaim in the national media, Sweet Mystery was called “a beautifully written, excruciating collision of form and emotion, joy and pain, willpower and self-examination, control and surrender” by the Washington Post. This edition contains a new afterword written by the author as well as a list of suggested readings.

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