Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR’s Polio Haven by Susan Richards Shreve

>> Sunday, May 31, 2009


Genre: Memoir
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 215
Challenges:
Support Your Local Library Challenge #24, The Southern Reading Challenge #2

I’m not normally a big memoir fan, but when I read this
review at Maggie Reads I put this one on my TBR list. Since Warm Spirngs is in Georgia, I decided to include it for the Southern Reading Challenge.

“Traces are little whispers of life in muscles destroyed by the polio virus.” Susan Richards Shreve had polio when she was a baby and doesn’t have any real recollection of her life without paralysis in her right leg. But there were traces of life in those muscles so in 1950 eleven year old Susan went to stay at the Warm Springs Polio Foundation. She spent much of the next two years there undergoing surgery and therapy and for most of that time her parents and little brother remained in their Washington, DC home.

I was born after the introduction of polio vaccine, so I only know what I’ve read of how the epidemics impacted people. This memoir was quite interesting and although I hesitate to use the word enjoy for a story of an ordeal I cannot imagine going through as a child, I thought it was a very good book.

Shreve combines her own story with bits of history of Warm Springs and FDR, polio epidemics, and society in the forties and fifties. She was a very determined young girl who dreamed of the day she would leave Warm Springs completely healed. In retrospect she explores the sense she had that her illnesses put a burden on her family and the guilt she felt for that. She explores her complicated relationship with her mother. She also talks about happy (and sad) times visiting and helping in the babies ward at Warm Springs. Shreve grew up to become a novelist and her early development as a storyteller may be a result of her illnesses and also some of the motivation for her determination to succeed.

Although a loner, she developed some friendships with other children at Warm Springs, as well as important relationships with some of the nurses, doctors and the Catholic priest. Parts of this book are incredibly sad, and parts are remarkably triumphant. All in all an interesting look at a time and place that the polio vaccine has put firmly into the past.

8 comments:

____Maggie 6/01/2009 6:09 AM  

I loved Warm Springs and talk about the guilt she felt for her buddies wheelchair accident which was all her fault!

My second grade teacher had polio as a child, and wore the braces all her life. I remember hugging them on a day I felt vunerable. The amazing thing that I didn't realize at the time 73-74, she was also black. Can you imagine her struggle?!? She has since died, but I think her story would make a wonderful book, too!

Good Luck on the drawing!!!

Missy 6/01/2009 9:29 AM  

This one's on my wish list...I can't wait to read it. Thanks for the review!

Sharon 6/02/2009 6:36 AM  

Sounds like a good read. Having been born in 53 I remember standing in line at school for the polio vaccine. It was drops on a sugar cube.

Kailana 6/02/2009 11:36 AM  

This sounds interesting and I have never heard of it before. I will have to go add it to my wish list!

SuziQoregon 6/02/2009 11:56 AM  

Maggie - I agree, your teacher's story would make a good book.

Missy: I thought it was good. Hope you like it too.

Sharon: I vaguely remember that vaccine, but I never knew anyone who had polio.

Kailana: I thought it was very interesting and I'm not a big memoir fan.

Carrie 6/05/2009 10:17 PM  

This book sounds awesome! I think I would like it very much. Thanks for your review of it!

Amy 6/05/2009 10:22 PM  

This caught my eye because my hubby and I took a trip to Warm Springs many years ago. I thought it was fascinating. I think I'll add this one to my TBR list! Thanks for a great review!

SuziQoregon 6/08/2009 7:18 AM  

Carrie: I thought it was really interesting. I think you would like it.

Amy: Oh I think that if you've visited Warm Springs you'd like this even more. Hope you do!

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment. I read and respond them here although not always right away. If you would prefer an email response let me know.

I do moderate comments on posts older than 14 days in order to control spam. I will approve your legitimate comments as soon as I can.

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