In May, 1995, a photograph and an anonymous note arrived at The Harvard Crimson: ”Keep this picture. There will soon be a very juicy story involving this woman.” Soon afterwards, Sinedu Tadesse stabbed her roommate, Trang Phuong Ho, to death, and then hanged herself.
This riveting book recounts the stories of these women, whose admission to Harvard was “halfway heaven,” a bridge to the American dream after lives of hardship. Sinedu grew up under communist tyranny in Ethiopia, while Trang was born in a Vietnamese forced labor camp, and fled the country with her father and sister to end up on welfare in Boston. Despite their similarities, the two were never friends; Trang was friendly and outgoing, while Sinedu, awkward and shy, had trouble adjusting to a culture vastly different from her own. Drawing upon her astonishing diaries, New York Times bestselling author Thernstrom, a Harvard graduate herself, reconstructs Sinedu’s inner life to reveal a girl struggling against isolation and depression. The book reveals Harvard as an institution ill-equipped to deal with mental illness on campus that apparently cared more for its reputation than for its student body.
A brilliant synthesis of cultural analysis, psychological study, and first-rate investigative journalism, Halfway Heaven is a haunting exploration of the power of profound loneliness and an expose of one of America’s most distinguished universities.
About Melanie Thernstrom
Melanie Thernstrom is the author of The Dead Girl. A native of Boston, she graduated from Harvard University in 1987, and has taught writing at Cornell, Harvard, and Boston University. Her journalism has appeared in The New Yorker. She lives… More about Melanie Thernstrom
“A book of rare illuminating depth… As she did with The Dead Girl (one of the best modern books about murder and its underlying effects), Melanie Thernstrom once again demonstrates a great, shattering gift for writing about forgotten people: the dead, those who kill them, the secrets and histories that bind the killer and the killed, and the lives that must survive beyond such intolerable losses.”—Mikal Gilmore, author of Shot in the Heart
“Compelling… eloquent… fortunately, Thernstrom was ultimately tough enough to ask all the right questions.”—Newsweek
“A gracefully written and moving book that combines first rate journalism, well-informed clinical discussion and a brief meditation on the nature of evil.”–The Wall Street Journal
“Part mystery, part expose, Thernstrom’s gripping account of a murder/suicide at Harvard combines fascinating case material with great seriousness of purpose… a cautionary tale of alienation’s destructive power—even among the most talented.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A complex and mature work of true crime.”—Publishers Weekly
“More than juicy. It is a surprisingly moving and powerful investigation of the nearly unimaginable loneliness of an outsider at Harvard, written by the ultimate insider… a brave and chilling indictment of Harvard’s reaction to the scandal. A.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Casts an unflinching eye on mental health services on American college campuses.”—The Boston Globe
“Remarkably empathetic, well-researched and intelligent.”—Harper’s Bazaar
“Truly haunting, profoundly sad… Gracefully articulates our grief at losing the one who reached out to others, and summons our empathy for the one who tried, and could not.”—Radcliffe Quarterly