Saturday, February 13, 2016

Rosemary, The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, by Kate Clifford Larson

1st of all, when was the last time I read a biography?  Not often, right?  So why did I read about Rosemary Kennedy?  I've got an obvious answer:  It was a book club selection.  In this case, it's for  the February meeting of the Books, Inc. 4th Evening Tuesday Book Club. And since this was a month that I would be able to attend, I figured what the heck.

I often get accused - nay, lambasted - for reading so little non-fiction.  To be fair, I read 8 non-fictions last year.  And several of them were not even memoirs.  But, alas, it is true that 8 out of 65 is only 12.3%.  Not a lot.  And Rosemary is my 1st one of 2016 (also 1 of 8).

Let's get to it.  I gave this book a 3/4.  It was dry and somewhat tedious at times.  But it was very informative about the entire Kennedy clan, especially Rosemary and her parents, Rose and Joe, Sr.  I learned about Montessori schools; Catholic vs. Protestant prejudice; Eunice's incredible work with the intellectually and physically disabled and her role in establishing the Special Olympics; and even lobotomies!  That's a lot to learn.  And speaking of the Special Olympics, look at this:  1000 participants in 1968, and 4 million now in 200 countries!

But lest I give you the impression that it was only a dry and unemotional read - not so fast! I had a 16 page stretch where I had the following out-loud reactions:

1.  "Wow!"
2.  "Wow! Wow!"
3.  "Wow!  Wow!" plus tears

I mentioned lobotomies.  It turns out that they were very popular in the 30s and 40s.  In those 2 decades, there were tens of thousands performed!  Isn't that crazy?  The pace of surgery slowed with the advent of antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs in the early 50s. We all remember when Jack Nicholson gets lobotomized in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  It doesn't look like much, does it?

And no review would be complete without a few personal connections (no, not with the Kennedy's):
1.  Larson tells us about quintuplets born in 1934 in Ontario, Canada.  They were born without fertility drugs, which was unheard of at that time.  They ended up living in a house in which tourists and the media could watch them around the clock.  Remember Jim Carey's movie, The Truman Show?
2.  In 1927, the Kennedy clan rented a home in Riverdale, NY.  My aunt and uncle actually lived in Riverdale.  It's a very upscale community.  But since my aunt and uncle were Jacuzzis (yep, THE Jacuzzis - one of my mother's sisters married into the whirlpool clan), they could pretty easily afford it.
3.  On Rosemary's 53rd birthday, she was given a canary named Lollie.  This has double significance for me.  First, Atul Gawande, in his book, Being Mortal (reviews 12/9/15 & 12/13/15), talks about the benefits of having a bird in the room of someone with an intellectual or physical disability.  He was specifically talking about the elderly.  But it seems that the same concept works for any age.  It sure made Rosemary happier.  Second, Lollie is the nickname of a very close friend of ours.  Coincidence?  Of course!

Finally, I want to quote Anthony Shriver, Eunice's son.  He kind of summed it all up when he said:  "The interest (Rosemary) sparked in my family towards people with special needs will one day go down as the greatest accomplishment that any Kennedy has made on a global basis."  I would say that's pretty powerful stuff.


  1. I think it's a very good thing that lobotomies are not routinely performed anymore, LOL. I read an excerpt of this in People Magazine (a magazine entry is usually all I want to read of memoirs). Very sad story!

    1. I grew up in the 60s (I was in junior high gym class when we heard about Jack Kennedy's assassination), but I simply had no knowledge of Rosemary, along with much of what I learned in the book.

  2. I rarely read non-fiction, and when I first heard about this book I thought I might like to read it, but when I looked deeper into the heartbreaking subject matter I knew it would bring me to tears.

    1. It wasn't too tough, for the most part. But there were definitely a few rough moments.
      On a positive note, Happy Valentine's Day!