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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
The Preventorium is a memoir by Susan Annah Currie of being separated from her family after being deemed at high risk of contracting tuberculosis and being moved to the Magee Preventorium in Mississippi. Currie's story begins at the end of the 1950s when she is placed by her mother and aunt in the residential quarantine facility, one of many young girls whose every movement is monitored and controlled. In regimented daily activities, Currie describes her isolation from the general public and being raised in “an ultra-bright hospital existence that pretended to be a home.” From the minutiae of an almost moment-to-moment routine, outdoor play, meals, family visits, and attention to hygiene, to the dark secrets that punctuated the girls' existence, like the charming nurse in pink who turned out to be a serial abuser, Currie brings back to life a way of living in the past that many have forgotten, and most never even knew about at all.
I think the timing of The Preventorium by Susan Annah Currie is perfect given that the world has only just recently emerged from a global pandemic. We are reminded by Currie's memoir that the learning curve for preventative measures can be extremely steep when no preventative medicine yet exists, and in the same way, parents now are grappling with the mental health impact of children being completely isolated; we can see how the fickleness of hindsight has haunted healthcare throughout history. This time around, children remained with their families and nobody can really question what a significant difference that is from Currie's total removal from loved ones. She made friends, and some of those stories are adorable. My favorite is when Currie and Ethel try to liven things up by moving the beds during the night so girls would wake up in a different spot from where they fell asleep. Living in such close quarters though also amplified trauma, especially when someone next to you inexplicably disappeared forever. For a child like Currie who realized her father was never coming back only after being admitted, this becomes one of many security and mental health issues she carries into adulthood. Overall, this is a beautifully written memoir, and having a first-hand account of Currie's experiences is a treasure to hold onto. Very highly recommended.