“The Power of Play” – my book review written by Shannon Perkins Carr
On the surface, this book is a moving and authentic memoir detailing life in Serbia before, during, and after the Yugoslav wars, as well as the ups and downs of immigration. But it is also so much more than that.
The Journey to Bring Back Play is an account of what it is to be human, to suffer loss, to navigate changing relationships, as well as growing up and finding your authentic self.
Knowing little about the Yugoslav wars, or life in Serbia, I still found plenty to relate to in Nataša’s writings, and found it difficult to put the book down once I’d started reading. Her detailed recollections of her playful childhood filled me with memories of growing up in suburban North Vancouver, playing games like tag and hide and seek with other children in the neighbourhood. Her descriptions of her teenage self buying records at the downtown market made me think of my outings with high school friends to CD stores, taking the sea bus across the inlet to downtown Vancouver, chasing the newest alt rock releases, as well as some gems from the past. Her descriptions of the burdensome emotions and isolation caused by the war reminded me in many ways of the recent pandemic, during which we all struggled with a changing and unpredictable world, as well as a degree of social isolation.
Nataša adeptly depicts her changing life, from her carefree childhood and early adolescence, into the onset of war and the subsequent adversity, fear and frustration. She shares beautifully detailed personal stories about her family, friends, and strangers who touched her along her journey. Her writing has a conversational and engaging quality that makes the reader feel immediately connected to the author and her experiences.
As a music therapist, I was of course intrigued by Nataša’s descriptions of play, both in her childhood, and in her adult life when she describes playing with her daughter. I was impressed at her intuitive understanding of what has been studied at length by psychologists, doctors, and therapists: namely, the importance of play in our psychological development, as well as our mental health, at any age. “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self,” wrote pediatrician and psychoanalyst Dr. Donald Winnicott in his renowned book, Playing and Reality. Yet so many of us have forgotten the importance of play in our lives. We are generally told, as adults, to “work hard”, but rarely to “play hard.” Our mental health suffers due to many issues in our modern world, but I believe the societal and monetary pressures of our “work ethic” and the subsequent lack of time or energy to play, is an important contributor. Nataša’s description of her journey from a playful childhood, through the trauma of war, and the subsequent long road to rediscover her playful self, illustrate this as eloquently and convincingly as any clinical case study.
Her descriptions of the bleakest moments as a young adult are moving in their raw honesty. However, through all these challenges, Nataša maintains a sense that things could and indeed should be different. She refused to accept the new oppressive world she found herself inhabiting, in contrast to so many around her who seemed to quickly accept it as the “new normal.” “No!” she writes passionately, “was my final answer to all societal requests. My life was already small and crazy and I didn’t plan to make it completely meaningless.” While she claims to have forgotten about her carefree childhood during this time, it seems to me that a part of her remembered it, perhaps unconsciously, and still sought out that creative, healthy spirit of play.
Years later, through a long process of healing, growth and immigration, as she played with her young daughter, she finally found the missing piece of herself, her true creative and playful self.
“When will I grow up?” Nataša asks her daughter in a game of role-playing. “In five minutes and two broccolis,” replies her daughter without hesitation. What a wonderful and entertaining illustration of the spirit of play!
This book was written about the past, but it is hauntingly relevant to the issues facing us today. Through her unadorned and powerful writing, Nataša communicates her own struggles, which are also the struggles of all of us. After all, we are all human, and we have all suffered loss and trauma in some form. We are all, whether we know it or not, searching for the spirit of play in ourselves and our lives. Nataša writes that composing The Journey to Bring Back Play was her therapy. It is perhaps fitting then, that reading this book is surely the therapy we all need today, on both a global and a personal level.
Shannon Perkins Carr is an author and self-publisher who has recently released her debut novel, “Searching for Persephone”. The book can be found in bookstores in Victoria BC as well as in many online stores. More info here.
I had an opportunity to talk to some of my readers in person and hear them share their impressions about my book. But I’d truly appreciate it if I could get a chance to read reviews and ask questions I sometimes miss to address when talking face-to-face. Please, use my contact page and let me know how you find my book resonating with you.