Runa by Vera Buck


Mental health clinic Salpêtrière in Paris. A young medicine student from Switzerland called Jori helps the powerful and famous director Charcot to prepare his famous lectures by collecting fresh batch of patients from their homes. Jori is doubly motivated to watch and learn – his girlfriend, Pauline, has had mental health issues and he is eager to cure and marry her. After a while Jori gets in touch with Runa, a very strange little girl with prematurely white hair and one pupil larger than the other. The girl is behaving strangely, creating trouble for herself and everybody around. What’s her illness? Can she be cured?

My impressions

It was a surprisingly good story. Still before you approach this book you must know about several things or it might be a big fat DNF for you. First of all if you really despise reading about children who suffer without any reason, stay away from it. The same is true when it comes to humiliating women and, generally, patients, by doctors and other superiors (like nurses or guards).

Runa is full of dark, dark scenes and quite vivid descriptions of these. I mean here illegal experiments even doctor Mengele wouldn’t be ashamed of. I mean also a circus in a form of public lectures during which female patients, some of them really ill and helpless, are publicly stimulated to ‘perform’ i.e. have epileptic or hysterical attacks while the happy audience, all men, are cheering and hooting and salivating. Horrible and disgusting, I know, but not far from real situation of mental patients in too many hospitals at the beginning of the 20th century in Europe and America. These were the times when, if you were a female and had mental health issues your family could confine you in a hospital and forget about you. Then your treatment and your fate often depended completely on the doctor you had to deal with and other medical staff. Icy water showers, electro stimulation sessions, taking part in humiliating lectures, sometimes partially or completely nude, sexual abuse, cold, hunger, these were very real issues. The mind boggles, I know, but just google the story behind Camille Claudel, a very promising sculptor…

Final verdict

A dark, twisted tale with bittersweet ending. What a pity it is currently not available in English but I hope it is going to be translated soon.

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6 Responses to Runa by Vera Buck

  1. blodeuedd says:

    I think that I will stay way then

  2. Carole Rae says:

    I am curious. I’ll have to wait until it is in English tho.

  3. heidenkind says:

    There’s a book about how 19th-century mental health patients were expected to “perform,” with a lot of photographs from Salpêtière specifically. Have you read it? The title escapes me at the moment but I know it’s by a French scholar

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