In Aftermath, Susan Brison tells the true story of her harrowing assault and extraordinary struggle back to wholeness.
In a bright summer morning in 1990, Susan Brison went for a walk along a country road in southern France. "About an hour and a half later," she explains, "I was lying face down in a muddy creek bed at the bottom of a dark ravine, struggling to stay alive." She had been pulled from the road into the bushes, beaten, raped and strangled until she lost consciousness. When she came to, the attacker was dragging her by her feet through the ravine, where he bludgeoned her with a rock, strangled her again and left her for dead.

In Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self (Princeton), Susan Brison charts the disintegration of identity that occurs after sexual violence, and the long and arduous journey back toward a new self. A philosophy professor at Dartmouth, Brison uses her intellect as a powerful tool for survival and recovery, the way a karate champion would use her hands or a long-distance runner would use her legs—methodically she deconstructs the experience over a decade, bearing witness to her own trauma and carefully observing how it transforms her. She weaves her personal narrative together with larger philosophical questions about the nature and effects of violence. The end result is an illuminating study of how shattered lives can be made whole again—how we can move from victimhood to a new and stronger sense of self.

"You'll never be the same," Brison is told at her first meeting of a survivors support group. "But you can be better." Slowly, amazingly, this becomes true: Both student and teacher at once, Brison learns how to construct a new life story that incorporates her assault for what it was—something she endured. "What I wish [for]Éis not the superhuman ability to avoid life-threatening disasters," she tells us, "rather, resilience, the capacity to carry on, alive in the present, unbound by dread or regret." Restrained, lucid, and elegant, Aftermath is a testament to endurance and, ultimately, to survival.


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