Every Family Has a Story by Julia Samuel review – why we inherit our parents’ problems

The bestselling psychotherapist explores how trauma and anxiety can pass through generations in these hugely sensitive first-hand accounts

“How are you?” is a question – as I remember my mother telling me long ago – best avoided. Once you start to think about it, you realise most people prefer not to have to respond to the inquiry truthfully (a polite “fine” covers it).

In Every Family Has a Story: How We Inherit Love and Loss, a collection of eight family narratives, psychotherapist Julia Samuel finds herself asking Archie, a man in his 50s with a brain tumour who has been told he has no more than a year to live, how he is, and he “gently” reminds her of her “insensitivity” – and she reproaches herself. What makes Samuel outstandingly sympathetic as a therapist and as a writer is her unusual willingness to admit to faultiness and not to be remote or over-authoritative. She is a virtuoso listener, but wears her heart on her sleeve and will occasionally admit to feeling unequal to what she is witnessing. Her lovely – and in no way insensitive – character leavens the narratives assembled here.

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