Through Dooms of Love
Through Dooms of Love is the first and only novel by Dr. Karl Stern, a Jewish-Bavarian psychiatrist who escaped from Nazi Germany and settled in Montreal before the outbreak of World War Two. Published in 1960, Through Dooms of Love explores themes of mental illness, guilt and expiation, religion and the changing medical/treatment paradigms in psychiatry, as well as the experience of patients and caregivers in asylums. Situated in Chicago, the story unfolds as Leonhard Radbert, an elderly Czech refugee from Nazi Germany, who comes from a wealthy, cultured glass-making family, loses his sanity after a stroke. The stroke seems to be induced by news that his daughter Marianne, with whom he is very close, is embarking upon a romantic relationship with an American businessman. Stern's novel suggests that the experience of fleeing the Old World and its richness of cultural tradition, but also Radbert's lack of connection and identification with his new host culture, are reasons for Radbert's breakdown. Before his mental breakdown Radbert lives with Marianne, who supports them both with her work as a department store model (she is also a highly cultured and also trained in drama in Europe). Although Stern's novel was not successful during its time, and is arguably inferior to his nonfiction/essays on medicine, Through Dooms of Love may be of interest for anyone searching for first hand observations, in fictional form, made by a European psychiatrist of how patients were treated in the 1950s-60s. This novel may also be of particular interest in its observations about transcultural psychiatry as well as the differences in attitudes toward psychiatric and psychoanalytic training between North America and Europe. Stern's work has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence lately among scholars of the history of medicine, religion and psychology.
Deborah Ostrovsky is a writer and editor whose work frequently touches upon the history of medicine and women's health.