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Submitted Literature

The Sunflower Forest

By Torey Hayden


Narrated through the eyes of a 17 year old whose mother slowly descends into a trauma-induced madness, an initially innocuous-seeming oddness leads to a shocking and unexpected climax.  Concentration camp experiences are documented through the Mother’s need to confess her horrific history to her daughters before this tragedy ensues.  Written by Torey Hayden, who is famed for her autobiographical texts focusing on her work with learning disability and teaching in the USA.

Key Themes:

  • Carer Issues
  • Childhood / Adolescence
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Psychosis
  • Revealing Reads

Significant Quotes / Pages

9-10 – “Dad called them ‘spells’.  Mama’s spells.   When they happened, he would lift his shoulders in a bemused, half-shrug  and then smile, as if it were just a whimsical little quirk she had, such as the way people might throw salt over their shoulders after spilling it.  Although I’d hated the episodes, for most of my childhood I thought they were normal.  I thought every child’s mother acted like that.  I must have been ten or eleven before I discovered other mothers didn’t.”

233 – “Nobody’s help but my father’s was needed.  Because he was her husband and he was supposed to help her.  So why was he just standing there? Why was he telling the policeman she would go to a psychiatrist?  He was the one who needed a psychiatrist.  To have his head examined.  To see who had bewitched him.  To find out what kind of man he was, who wouldn’t even stand by his wife.

I was afraid she was going to hit him.  All the hitting I’d ever seen Mama do was confined to occasional smacks on the bottom when Megan and I were little, but just then, I thought she was going to hit my father.  She grabbed hold of a chair by its back, and I closed my eyes.  But when I opened them, and she was still in the same spot, still holding on to the back of the chair.  My father kept the table between them.

Embittered by our refusal to support her, by our recent treatment of her, as if she were an untrustworthy child, she raged at us, saying vicious, tortured things.  All these weeks she had borne what was to her humiliating, degrading treatment, all these weeks she had suffered our betrayal and had said nothing.  Now the hurt and rage came spilling out of her like vomit.

Our unwillingness to help her reclaim Klaus had clearly caused her deepest wound.  Time and again she came back to that point.  Why had we abandoned her?  She was right.  She knew about these things.  She understood these kinds of experiences better than any of us.  Why wouldn’t we trust her?   How did we let ourselves be fooled by their dirty tricks?  How had they convinced us to believe them and not her?  She knew she was right, and she was horrified that they have the power to make the people she trusted most suddenly desert her.  Or was it just that we were weak people?”



Reference: Torey, Hayden. 2008. The Sunflower Forest. London: Harper, 2008


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009