Depression is a common and little openly discussud condition that reaches across all walks of life. A condition often left unattended and with a stigma, many live their lives never knowing what it is to be happy or content.
In As Happy as Ling, by Carlos Aleman, you follow the lives of a family who knows of the darkness in just about every way. It is the story about the lives of Octavio and Adrianna along with their children Cara and Alex. We follow their journey through the fires of pain and misunderstanding. Octavio, in the service with several deployments to Afghanistan, is not able to handle the fallout and death of his friends and comrades. His condition is well documented and during the different wars renamed to fit the times. The symptoms known as shell shock or post-traumatic disorder created an almost catatonic state in Octavio. Adrianna was in love but could not deal with the stress this added to her life, and she herself fell into an easy form of depression brought on by turning to alcohol. This is the story of the splintering of their lives and the lives of their children. And yet it is also the story of what it takes to turn lives into brightness.
Aleman has written an exceptional story, full of despondency and despair in parts, and yet there is lightness and life interwoven throughout. The pain and horror is heartfelt as this family moves on through their lives and it is interesting to see how Cara and Alex respond to the conditions. They gain strength and resilience, and outer shells that are tough to break through.
When the two are sent to live with their uncle, we see an entirely different type of life, full of care and laughter. When I initially began reading, I assumed that Ling was some form of muse or a an example set by the author, and yet as we move further into the story we find that Ling is actually the one person who seems to hold the key. She is loved and respected and yet in a deep depression of her own. As she begins to interact with this family, she finally realizes what she is missing. Will it be too late to share her love? The sudden lifting of Ling’s depression can only be described as amazing, and yet it has been documented where depression dissolves on its own with no medication.
Throughout the story, you will find it peppered with bits of light and beauty but also with those characters who exemplify many of the forms of depression most common these days. Whether the form of depression is major depression, psychotic depression, bipolar, of any of the other many forms, you may run across some of them in the characters of As Happy as Ling.
While the subject matter seems an odd choice for a story, it is certainly a very deep and disturbing look at a psychosis that is more open and reported these days. However even with the overtone and darkness created by the malevolent disease, this is a story that will tug at your heart. As I mentioned above, it is full of light and healing as well, and would make a wonderful addition to your library.
I would recommend this book to a reading group or book club. It is insightful and thought-provoking, sure to create reaction. As Happy as Ling is well written and gets to the heart of many issues. I did struggle a bit with the ending, not understanding that piece but it may be because I had become too close to the characters. You will have to judge on your own.