My Brother’s Journey: From Genius To Simpleton by Marie Abanga is a moving tribute to her younger brother Gabriel, whose life was taken away far too soon by mental illness. It includes not only Marie’s words, but also the words of others who knew and loved her brother.
In the book she shares what a kind person he was with great personal and academic promise until illness entered his life and irreversibly changed him. The “simpleton” reference in the title reflects the challenges he had with performing basic tasks towards the end of his life. The book includes letters he had written, which showed a clear decline given that he had previously done very well in school.
He was diagnosed with epilepsy while he was still in school, and had multiple hospitalizations. Later, he ended up being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He moved to Germany to further his studies, but ended up being deported because his illness was uncontrolled. Marie shares how difficult it was when he returned home to Cameroon; it was hard to tell which parts of what he was saying were real and which were not, and she described him as resembling a ghost.
He later was able to get a visa to move to the United States. At the time, it was thought that it would be the best thing for his health, and perhaps the “black magic” that affected him might not be able to cross the ocean. However, his health further deteriorated there. Marie describes the numerous challenges in trying to get adequate care for him, made even more difficult by the fact that his immediate family was back in Cameroon, and Marie was unable to get a visa to go to the U.S.
When the family were informed that Gabriel had died, the cause was unknown. Marie is openly critical of the health care system that let him down. In particular she condemns the institution where he was held after an altercation with police. She shares a letter her mother had written to the institution asking that his medical needs be addressed, but this seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Marie writes about the stigma around mental illness in Africa, where the subject is considered taboo. Those who are ill may be shunned by their families and rejected by their communities, and may be talked of as being wicked, bewitched, or possessed.
What really stood out for me was the prevailing attitudes in Cameroon regarding mental illness. I’ve heard that ideas such as black magic exist, but this book really brought it to life. It’s also interesting that he seemed to do the best when he was in Cameroon, and worse when he was in countries with supposedly more advanced health care systems. This is a sad story of a very promising young man who fell through the cracks – the very wide cracks – in the health care system.
My Brother’s Journey is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
You can find Marie on Marie Abanga’s Blog.
You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads. I’ve also reviewed Marie’s books What Is The Worst Cases Scenario and Battered, Tattered, But Not Shattered on Goodreads.
My latest book, A Brief History of Stigma, looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.
You can find it on Amazon and Google Play.
17 thoughts on “Book Review: My Brother’s Journey”
This was a tough read but in all fairness, knowing that my own brother is going through what I had to face and still face to this day. I am trying so hard to convince him by my example that attending the mental health facility would benefit him in so many ways.
By all means… He has so many other issues, such as alcoholism added to the mix of mental health ones. I just hope that I can truly reach out to him before it’s too late.
Thank you for sharing this book review. I have added this to my list of books I want to read this year.
I hope that your brother will realize soon that getting help could make a big difference.
It was even tougher for me to write that book in just one month – as soon as he died and before he was buried. It took a month to arrange for the corpse to be repatriated, my mum actually went there to sort that out, and then to arrange funeral stuffs and for us 3 siblings left to fly in .
I think attending a mental health facility also ties in to the faith or what you are getting out from the facility? I don’t know for sure because we don’t have any back here and it’s left to church or shamans to do what they can or want – or you just see the lone psychiatrist around and take dem meds.
My brother saw many doctors and was enlisted in therapy for a short while out there. He spoke so well of one doctor, but dreaded going to the one who replaced that one or to whom he was later assigned.
My hope is to open a mental health care support center in my community, obviously the first ever here.
If you can truly reach out to him fine, but if you can’t – like I truly couldn’t towards the end, you’ll have to eventually forgive yourself and accept the obvious that it wasn’t your fault.
I appreciate your comment
As scary as it is that shamans are treating mental illness, it’s just as scary that your brother saw so many doctors and never got really effective treatment.
Hahaha Ashley, it may be scarry to read that, but that’s a big reality here. Treating may not be the word I’ll use on second thought, but shamans still rule here tbt. I went to at least 2 with my family for my brother and one other one was brought home and had such a disgusting persona and ritualistic request, I openly lashed out and encouraged my brother to dump their concoction. With regards to the doctors out there, I don’t even know what to say hahahaha.
I am so very sorry for the significant loss in your family.
Thanks Beckie, it’s much much better now. We created a foundation in his honour called the Gbm Foundation for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing and I am the country director. It gives me so much fulfilment doing all this
He is looking down on you and is o very proud of you, I’m sure of it. God Bless, You!
He sure is. He started calling me Mama Ayo when at age 13 and he 11, we were left to fend for ourselves and I will scale our high fence to get us food. That was just when he started having seizures. Mum had left the previous summer or so. Anyways, am still fondly called that and it always make me think of him . We were so so so close, and if anyone could get to him even when he was manic, that was me lil
Thank you so much for this awesome review. When I wrote that book, it was a means of survival because I was slipping. Insomnia for one month regardless of what I did, max 3 hours or restless sleep as from 2 week after he died. I lost maybe 10 or more kgs, I was a mess and started seeing a psychiatrist and psychotherapist myself leading to my PTSD diagnosis. I didn’t know anyone especially non African could read or get anything out of the book. It was to me a way of immortalizing the brother I knew. Simpleton as I used it really meant what I googled it to be: ‘a fool’. I couldn’t say it any other way – life has dealt me so many blows I wonder which is next lol.
I therefore really appreciate your reviewing this book of all the books I wrote. Thank you from the bottom of heart.
Let’s continue with our advocacy and self care all the way
You’re so welcome. I’m looking forward to reading your other books as well 🙂
Thanks Ashley, if I could influence your next choice, could it “What’s the Worst Case Scenario” please? That was my second hardest to write book and I felt so vulnerable tearing my phobias up that way lol