I first heard of The Answer to the Riddle is Me a couple of weeks ago when David Stuart MacLean did a segment on NPR’s This American Life. I was blown away. Basically, MacLean woke up one day on a train platform in India and did not know who he was, where he was or why he was there. He didn’t even have a passport. All of this he attributes to the anti-malarial drug known as Larium or mefloquine.
That is what truly peaked my interest. Larium. Mefloquine. When I went to India for the first time in 1996 I was prescribed Mefloquine. I was fine for the two months that I was in India, but within months of returning to Canada I became severely anxious and fell into a deep depression. I was already prone to depression, but this was different. I was scared.
At the time I didn’t make the connection between the mefloquine and my mental breakdown, but over the following year I started to hear more and more about the adverse psychological effects of mefloquine. In 2001 a studied conducted in the Netherlands concluded that 67% of those who take the drug will experience adverse side effects. Not great.
Reading The Answer to the Riddle is Me horrified and fascinated me. My god, that could have been me. MacLean tells his story in short snippets and it is riveting. He recounts his stay in a mental hospital in India, the arrival of his parents and his return back to the Unites States. As he slowly pieces together the fragments of his life, the parts that he remembers and that people tell him, you can see he is facing an uphill battle. And then he goes back to India.
Who would like this book? I was obviously drawn to The Answer to the Riddle Is Me due to my personal connection, but that does not mean the book would be any less compelling to the average reader. MacLean is a good writer. He doles out his story in equal parts of madness, humor, love and confusion. In some ways it reminded me of Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. Both are compelling reads about memory loss and brushes with insanity. Overall, it would appeal to anyone interested in travel, mental illness and memory loss.