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list price: $24.00
edition:Paperback
category: Psychology
published: Jan 2009
ISBN:9780676977417
publisher: Knopf Canada
imprint: Vintage Canada

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

Close Encounters with Addiction

by Gabor Maté

reviews: 1
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addiction, mental health, healing
5 of 5
1 rating
rated!
rated!
list price: $24.00
edition:Paperback
category: Psychology
published: Jan 2009
ISBN:9780676977417
publisher: Knopf Canada
imprint: Vintage Canada
Description

In this timely and profoundly original book, writer and physician Gabor Maté looks at the epidemic of various addictions in our society, tells us why we are so prone to them and outlines what is needed to liberate ourselves from their hold. Starting with a dramatically close view of Maté's drug addicted patients, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts weaves in stories of real people while providing a bold synthesis of clinical experience, insight and cutting-edge scientific findings. A haunting, compassionate and deeply personal examination of the nature of addiction.

Contributor Notes

GABOR MATÉ, MD, is a bestselling author and former medical columnist for the Globe and Mail, where his byline continues to be seen on issues of health and parenting. Dr. Maté weaves together scientific research, case histories and his own insights and experience to present a broad perspective that enlightens and empowers people to promote their own healing and that of those around them. He has had a family practice, worked as a palliative care physician and worked with the addicted men and women in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. In 2018, Dr. Maté was appointed to the Order of Canada in recognition of his passionate advocacy for social change in the prevention and treatment of addiction and mental health.

Awards
  • Winner, BC Book Prize’s Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
Editorial Review

"A harrowingly honest, compassionate, sometimes angry look at addiction and the people whose lives have been disordered by it."
—Ottawa Citizen

"Maté does a great service by forcing us to confront the us-and-them mentality that drives the get-tough responses to addiction.... I highly recommend Hungry Ghosts to everyone seeking insight into addiction."
The Vancouver Sun

"Excellent.... One of the book's strengths is Maté's detailed and compassionate characterization of the afflicted addicts he treats, but this is not just a memoir. Rather, using his own experience as well as the most advanced recent research, he attempts to delineate the closely interrelated psychological, social, and neurological dimensions of addiction.... A calm, unjudging, compassionate attentiveness to what is happening within."
The Walrus

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Reader Reviews

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A challenging but rewarding read

The last eighty pages of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts have taken me three weeks to finish.

I stumbled through the first few chapters. Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician from Vancouver’s DownTown East Side (DTES) wrote the book in what I interpret to be four main overtures. The first section of the book is devoted to bringing the readers up to speed on the narratives and geography. The second provides an overview of what is addiction (biologically, psychologically, in society), which gradually morphs into “how people got to that place” (physically, personally and societally) and then resoundingly (thankfully) the book closes with a section looking at redemption and healing.

This book is by no means easy to read.
The epicenter of the DTES will envelop you in cacophonous laughter, colours and sickly sweet smoke of the intersection. People hawking wares on the sidewalks, people lining the streets so thick it looked like Africa. Shouting, mingling, bartering; the traffic slowed down to the pace of Bamako, where traffic lights suddenly becomes a suggestion, and common sense becomes your safest bet to sound passage through to the other humdrum dreary side.

Regardless of whether or not the reader of Hungry Ghosts has visited the DTES, Dr. Maté does an excellent job of describing the neighbourhood. Dr. Maté writes with a clarity and clinical precision that is almost romantic. He goes on to describe where he works (the Portland Hotel Society), a housing facility that now manages several projects in the DTES.
The book begins with nearly the first 100 pages devoted to shocking the reader into a loose portrait of understanding of the DTES. He is able to evoke us into a place of compassion, where a community emerges out of systemic failure. Dr. Maté brings out our empathy without demanding it; the outpouring of compassion these first chapters extract is almost involuntary and exhausting. Through a series of short case studies he puts faces to the issues of the DTES. This I expected. People who have read this book before me have described it as labourous, reading a chapter at a time, putting it down often because of their tears. Chapter 4, entitled “You wouldn’t believe my life story” is accurately more devastating than any fiction I have ever read. His writing style and the humanity of the stories are addictive, catalyzing an empathy out of the reader that is almost grotesque: how can our social system fail so many people so completely? It is difficult to believe.

Dr. Maté’s book is well referenced, he provides over twenty pages of end-notes to supplement and bolster his arguments. The book is sprinkled with references to classical music and literature. But what is sneaky about the book, is that of course, the average reader, soldiering through 400 dense pages of largely scientific and academic writing will identify here and there with the people interviewed and contributing, but realistically, these same people are far more likely to identify with Dr. Maté himself. I was able to quickly locate the music he refers to, I’ve read many of the authors and thinkers he refers to—I was lulled into identifying with him. His relentless unabashed oversharing of his personal experiences and home life allow you to think of Dr. Maté as an actual person. This is helped along as many of the clients participating in the work also see him as such—they talk back to him, challenge him and manipulate him, in part (I’m guessing) because after a system has failed them so completely, what would the use be in continuing to participate in the staunch hierarchies that exist to protect it. The book’s greatest case study, is in fact, Dr. Maté himself.

Where this tactic become particularly effective is that as Dr. Maté switches to explaining the symptoms and causes of addiction, he uses himself as an example to illustrate the principles. At first, the links and parallels seem tenuous, but by the end of the work (it is impossible to feel as though this is a short book—it’s a veritable tome!), it works. That is why this book is so effective, and imperative to read for change makers, anyone really. It is why this book becomes accessible.

Dr. Maté’s quirky illustration of himself as a learned, compassionate man that suffers from addictions, forces the readers to attempt to assess their own lives and social moralities. Ultimately, as illustrated in Chapter 33 “A Word to Friends, Families and Colleagues”–you can’t sort out other people’s shit unless you are able to objectively try to sort out your own, or at the very least, realize that you (and everyone else) has work to do. This is the deeply humbling and universal message of this book, that there is a need for compassion and a holistic approach to dealing with all social issues, not only is this the most effective way, but also the most efficient because the impacts are on so many levels: support systems in all aspects of life. Holistic approaches are more complicated than the current systems in place, but the problems arising out of the current “silver bullet” solutions are so much more costly and complicated.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with the emotional capacity and time to process the complex issues it delves into. Although I don’t agree 100% with every argument Dr. Maté brings forward, ultimately I couldn’t agree more with his demands to demonstrate “curious compassion” and constant questioning: from the systems that suspend us to the actions that hold us in it’s grasp, inviting us to a lifelong work of constant redevelopment.

Read the full review:
http://katiclops.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/famished-ghosts-part-one/
http://katiclops.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/realm-of-dreams/

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