Edmund White Says This Memoir of Sexual Abuse is "Tragic as a Greek Drama and as Engrossing as a Victorian Novel."

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April is both National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Most books on these subjects, including Walter de Milly's, won't be found on coffee tables. But the Oxford American Magazine has listed his memoir as one of the most underrated Southern Books of All Time, describing it as an "almost unbelievably beautiful narrative recounting unspeakable suffering."

In My Father's Arms: A True Story of Incest is a memoir published before its time. While the book received critical support from important writers and psychologists on its publication, the subject itself remained uncomfortable in our culture. The story tells, for example, of the surgical castration of the father. It manages to convey this and other horrible things in a manner which will not bring satisfaction for those with prurient interests.

But for those who have suffered sexual abuse and those who love them, the book is essential reading. In his statement released today he says "There are many ways to commit murder. A sexual offender can murder a child without killing him. Some people think that physical damage must occur in order for a child to be abused. But it is not the physical act which does the damage. It is the ravaging of the child's heart… the tearing apart of the way the child understands relationships and love and caring. This is why the essential damage of sexual abuse is not usually physical. The damage is caused by betrayal. Fathers betray their sons and families. Priests betray their flocks. When the betrayer has become powerful by doing good works or wearing a mantle of spiritual authority, justice or even the simple hope of healing seems impossible."

The author says that even to this day, the influence of his (now deceased) father remains a force. His book has upset those who knew his father. Mr. de Milly was a man loved by his community. The father did good deeds, he visited the sick and raised money for the United Way and in his capacity as a banker, made loans to black churches when no other bank at the time would consider such a thing. But in his private life he took every opportunity to molest his son.

Today the author lives in Key West. In the ten years since the publication of his book, he's collaborated on other works, served as a victim advocate, and sat on two national nonprofit boards.

When asked if the book was cathartic, he says "not in the sense that it helped me vent my feelings. What the book did for me was to help me make sense of a senseless life."

"The process of healing" he says, "was like living inside a bubble. A bubble of incest. Everywhere I turned, it was there, separating me from the world outside. The bubble had the answers to my questions, but it was also keeping me a victim. One day I popped out of the bubble. It didn't disappear, but it did begin to shrink. Now, I tell people that it's like an old soccer ball, half deflated, in the weeds at the side of a field. I know it will always be there. But I don't have to look at it, or pay attention to what it holds. I can live, and see other places and times, and be who I am."

For more information on National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, go to http://www.nsvrc.org/news/saam/proclamation2010.

For information on National Child Abuse Prevention Month go to http://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/preventionmonth/

The author is available for interviews.


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