Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 89

Life Imitates Art and Art Imitates Life in Ukraine

What literature can we use to stay updated on the situation in Ukraine?

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

Often, art anticipates or responds to current events or crises. In so doing, it can aide our perspective of the world and meaning of life. Art can touch our emotions and psychology in ways that differ from everyday experiences.

As such, art can provide unique perspectives on the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia. For instance, novels are known to increase empathy and knowledge of others in a relatively safe environment of learning. One of my favorite classes during my psychiatric residency at the University of Chicago was one on literature as it related to psychiatry.

In that regard, one of our readers and a friend of mine, Rick Rocamora, who has worked around the world, provided me with some recommendations. One is Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel in 4 volumes, And Quiet Flows the Don, which is about the Russian Civil War during the early 20th century in what is now Eastern Ukraine. He thinks that this “was one of the strongest antiwar books I have ever read.” It was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1965. The Pete Seeger song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was inspired by a poem in the book.

Another of Rick’s recommendations is the Russian Jewish writer Isaac Babel, who also wrote about the horrors of war in the 1926 collection of short stories titled Red Calvary. He was executed by Stalin in 1940, conveying the courage that is sometimes needed to protest war.

Rick says that he was drawn to such books because of the Vietnam War and has come to the interesting conclude that “you have to be young to have the imagination to empathize with these stories.”

A nonfiction book was recommended by another reader and friend, William Hendee. Our readers have experienced interest in what makes Putin tick, and Bill recommends a book by Fiona Hill, who gave testimony during the first impeachment trial of President Trump. She wrote the well-regarded book Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, published in 2015, and posits Putin having a survivalist mindset for Russia and himself. In an Amazon blurb for the book, quoting from “Joe Biden: The Rolling Stone Interview”, Biden was asked: “Do you have time to read books? If so, which ones would you recommend?” His answer: “My goodness, let’s see. There’s Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy. Insightful.”1 Perhaps he is using something he learned from that book right now.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

Reference

1. Brinkley D. Joe Biden: The Rolling Stone Interview. Rolling Stone. May 9, 2013. Accessed March 14, 2022. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/joe-biden-the-rolling-stone-interview-204720/