Books News: A Wealthy Family’s Battle With Drugs Laid Bare, but to What End?

Books News: A Wealthy Family’s Battle With Drugs Laid Bare, but to What End?

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After her brother and sister-in-law descended into their drug-addled existence, Ms. Rausing took the couple’s four children in 2007 following a court hearing. Eva was not happy.

In an angry response to the book, Mr. Kemeny blamed Ms. Rausing’s family for hastening his daughter’s death and chided her for airing the family’s secrets in public. The book is “a cold, hollow and unsympathetic depiction of our beloved daughter, Eva,” he wrote in a statement, adding that Eva was a good mother, with or without her addiction. According to The Guardian, Mr. Kemeny, who has worked as a senior executive for Pepsi and once bought an island off the coast of South Carolina, tried in vain for months to prevent the book’s publication but will not take legal action to prevent its release. He believes that his daughter would be alive today if the Rausing family had not separated her from her children.

But while Ms. Rausing expressed sympathy for Mr. Kemeny’s desire to protect his daughter’s memory, she countered that he was in denial about the collateral damage of drug addiction to Eva’s children, whose safety and well-being were her priority. Mr. Kemeny “denies that a drug relapse makes people bad parents, which he must know is an astonishing denial of the reality of drug addiction,” she wrote in a statement.

Moreover, she said that writing about her brother and dead sister-in-law’s addiction for her memoir was motivated by a desire to help others. “Addiction is a family disease,” Ms. Rausing said. And while she admired the fellowship of the 12-step model, she believes the public debate about addiction needed to include the impact on families. “How are we to have that uncomfortable and difficult conversation if family members are told that it’s wrong to speak about their experiences?” she asked in an email, adding that silence and denial were part of the addict’s arsenal.

“Mayhem: A Memoir,” by Sigrid Rausing.

Credit
Alfred A. Knopf

Perhaps fittingly, the romance between Hans and Eva began in a drug rehabilitation center, where they met in their mid-20s. Soon after, they married. “They had a house in London, a house in Barbados, many cars and paintings,” and “invitations to this and that and philanthropy,” Ms. Rausing wrote.

Eva, a waifish daughter of a well-off peripatetic family, came to London as a child, and turned to drugs as a teenager. She found a kindred spirit in Mr. Rausing, the pensive scion of a wealthy Swedish family, who became addicted to heroin during a backpacking trip in India. The couple fluctuated for years between addiction, recovery and relapse.

The memoir, at once elliptical, cerebral and peppered with literary allusions, sometimes lacks the visceral edge inevitable in an observer locked out of the couple’s drug den. Ms. Rausing describes how Eva and Hans would spend days in their mansion getting high, Eva reduced to skin and bones. She fantasizes about kidnapping and saving her brother. She never does.

In one of the most moving parts of the memoir, Ms. Rausing explains her own struggles with depression and self-harm. The reader is left to question how she and her brother — progeny of the same parents and subject to the same rarefied upbringing — diverged in their ability to overcome their illnesses.

“I am writing a memoir of addiction, a history: that seems to imply a belief in external causes. But in fact I believe that all states are a combination of genetic, emotional, and cultural conditions,” she writes. “It may have been another sibling thing between us,” she adds, “My depression, his addiction; a similar emotional deficiency, or a similar emotional state.”

After the police discovered Eva’s body, Mr. Rausing pleaded guilty to preventing the lawful and decent burial of a body. He received a suspended sentence.

“I did not feel able to confront the reality of her death,” he said in a hearing. “I tried to carry on as if her death had not happened. I batted away inquiries about her. I took some measures to reduce the smell.”

According to friends, Mr. Rausing has rebuilt his life, is drug-free and is married to Julia Delves Broughton, an art expert. The couple are feted for their philanthropy, including giving charity to drug rehabilitation organizations. Mr. Rausing was not available for comment.

Asked what she saw as her brother’s culpability in the family’s disintegration, Ms. Rausing replied, “The culpability of all of us — the culpability of being human and of making mistakes.”

By the end of the memoir, one cannot help but feel empathy for Ms. Rausing’s attempt to take ownership of a narrative hijacked by lurid tabloid newspapers, even as her wealthy upbringing taught her to be silent and discreet. In that we can, perhaps, feel the ghost of Eva Rausing prodding her along.

After all, she notes, “Someone died, early one morning or late one night.”

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