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Book Review of “Sybil” By Flora Rheta Schreiber


By Flora Rheta Schreiber

I don’t know where to begin from and what to write. What shocked me most was the ideation of the novel. The issue of child abuse, put in one of the most horrifying ways, makes this a difficult book to “just read” through.
The book is about split personalities (MPD- Multiple Personality Disorder) that is a by-product of child abuse essentially.



Sybil is said to be a true story based on one of the most severe cases of MPD and child abuse in history. It portrays sexual, physical and emotional abuse by the hands of a mentally disturbed mother. It reveals the different personalities living within one woman (Sybil), in the course of (about) twenty years of her life that the book spans. As clichéd as it may sound, the pain and horrid incidents reflected in the book are sure to send a chill down your spine.

In 1954, New York psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur has a new client –a thin, nervous young woman complaining of unusual back outs. She speaks of losing time, fading in and out of consciousness over erratic time frames (sometimes hours, sometimes days). She speaks of finding herself in new cities and town, in clothes she never remembered buying. Dr. Wilbur takes her through a routine course of treatment until the day she meets “Vicky”- another personality inhabiting Sybil’s body. Dr. Wilbur realizes that Sybil is a case of MPD (an almost unheard of disorder back then) and she would have to dig deeper in to the case. Slowly about 16 personalities rise from within Sybil (including two male alters, Mike and Sid). The sophisticated Vicky was the “record keeper” of the selves, holding back the memories too painful for Sybil and the others to know. Peggy Lou was the repository of Sybil’s anger–defiant, belligerent, contemptuous of Sybil and terrified of breaking glass; Vanessa, a redhead with impressive musical talent. Some, like Ruthie, were barely more than toddlers mentally. It was the beginning of an emotionally exhausting eleven-year journey to make a fractured human being whole again.

The agony of a six (or seven) year old suffering from rape, and inexplicable, unnecessary forced enemas, and other forms of physical and sexual abuse compose the chilling tale. The torture ended only with Sybil’s death.

This by far is one of the most nerve wrenching reads of all time, for me. But a must have!

(Book Review by Sanjana Kapoor)

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