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Pharmakon

“I was born because a man came to kill my father.”

“A smart, eccentric coming-of-age story about an entire culture’s maturation process.”

—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Winner of the MJA Open Fiction Award

William Friedrich, an ambitious professor of psychology at Yale in the early 1950s, has stumbled upon a drug that promises happiness—and that can make him a famous man. His is a humanitarian effort; an attempt to relieve Americans of suffering, and the early results are so promising that Friedrich stakes his future on it. But when his experiment goes awry and a research subject, a brilliant and troubled Yale student, commits murder, the consequences will haunt him and his family forever.

Pharmakon, which in Greek means both “poison” and “cure,” is an epic invocation of the quest for bliss, for live, for family and prosperity, and all of the betrayals that follow. Through the eyes of the youngest son, Zach, we follow the Friedrichs from the well-ordered suburban life of postwar America through the chaos and freedom of the counterculture into the drug-fueled, media crazed eighties and beyond. In William Friedrich, Wittenborn has defined the archetypal American patriarch: a miracle worker and source of strength to everyone except those he loves the most. Honest, insightful, and ruefully funny, Pharmakon captures formative moments of the twentieth century and the telling traits of an American family. It is also a layered, thoughtful search behind the veil of psychopharmacology as we know it today—a tale not only of the consequences of research, but the complex personalities, appetites, and struggles that created it.

“A rattling good tale . . . Wittenborn describes the mind of a cracked genius with great gusto and inventiveness . . . [Pharmakon’s] pleasures are many.”

The New York Times Book Review
“Epically entertaining.”
Vogue
”John Irving is a benevolent influence on Wittenborn’s work.”
The Times Literary Supplement
“No one who has ever been part of a family can fail to feel pangs of recognition.”
—Jay McInerney
“A fascinating portrait of a family living on the edge.”
—Richard Price
“…sharply observed; a subtle and wise fable of our time.”
—Susanna Moore
“Eerie, authentic, and always with heart, Pharakon is a slow-burning triumph.”
—Marisha Pessl
“An old-fashioned novel about a modern subject… Beneath all the pain there’s hope coursing through these pages, and in the end don’t be surprised if you find yourself moved to tears.”
—Bret Easton Ellis

Press Comments about Dirk Wittenborn’s Casper

“In this novel, Dirk Wittenborn analyses Casper's story with high psychological sensitivity and sometimes oppressive intensity - a great novel about guilt, family and finally: about love.”

Vanity Fair
“It is Wittenborn's greatest novel with fascinating characters and a tragicomic ending.”
Neue Presse
“A stylistic elegant book with a story that is both distracting and enchanting.”
Playboy
“This book is abound with dry humour and is laconic, tragic and thrilling at the same time. One comes to realize that the discussions about methods of psychiatric therapies and about ethics in brain research are more than appropriate. Our conclusion: Absolutely marvelous!”
Emotion
“Dirk Wittenborn’s new novel recounts the beginnings of hallucinogenic drugs, and thrillingly plays with the strong belief in progress at this time.”
Frankfurter Rundschau
“With a strong sense for pointed dialogues and the absurd, which reveals itself in normality, the author describes the sometimes bizarre world of psychology. And as every package insert gives instructions for side-effects, this novel does not only stimulate the brain cells but also keeps the reader grinning.”
—Schweizer Illustrierte
“Casper by US author Dirk Wittenborn is superficially read a novel about depression, but in truth it dissects life's dreams. The best Wittenborn ever.”
Max
“Without pathos but with much wit and love for his family Wittenborn tells a really wild story.”
Osterreich
“Wittenborn succeeds in giving a cunning description of the East-Coast America of the post-war period, when medicine saw in pharmacy the fraud promise of salvation. As his successful novel Fierce People, his new book Casper also is about the all-American leitmotif of the outsider, advancement, and ambition.”
Focus