Joanne (Goldenberg) Greenberg 1932–
(Has also written under pseudonym of Hannah Green) American novelist and short story writer.
Greenberg is best known for her autobiographical novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964). One of the first books about mental illness that is told from the viewpoint of the patient rather than the analyst, Rose Garden charts the course of Deborah Blau, a young schizophrenic caught between the real world and her own secret world, the kingdom of Yr. When Rose Garden was first released, it received little notice either from critics or the general public. Gradually, however, it started gaining popularity and today it is widely considered one of the most sensitive and revealing portraits in contemporary literature of a struggle against severe mental disorder.
Rose Garden is based on Greenberg's own experience with schizophrenia; she wrote it under the pseudonym Hannah Green in order to protect her young children from the knowledge that she had been institutionalized as a teenager. Most early reviewers rightly guessed that the book is nonfictional and considered Rose Garden more valuable as an honest account of mental illness and life in a mental institution than as a literary work of art. As Brigid Brophy noted: "Should it turn out to be a work of fiction, its value would vanish overnight." Critics generally attribute this to the inconsistency of Greenberg's approach and her sketchy characterizations. They feel that she focuses too much on Deborah's illness and the course of her therapy and does not adequately develop Deborah or her doctor as personalities in their own right. However, other critics praise her ability to describe Deborah's mental state so thoroughly that her madness becomes comprehensible and her escape into Yr appealing. Even those critics who dispute Rose Garden's literary merits generally feel that Greenberg's writing is competent enough to maintain the emotional power and the realism on which the success of the book ultimately depends. Young adult readers readily identify with Deborah's longing to escape reality and her feelings of alienation from the world.
Greenberg's other novels and short story collections have not attained such widespread popularity, but they have been well-received by critics. Although her works differ markedly from each other in terms of setting and plot, a common theme found in many of them is the alienation that results from lack of communication. Whether the result of a physical handicap, as in In This Sign (1968), or rigid adherence to religious or familial creeds, as in The King's Persons (1963) and Founder's Praise (1976), respectively, Greenberg skillfully and realistically captures the sources of alienation. Critics often praise her accurate portrayal of the diverse settings, times, and occupations which provide the background for her fiction.
(See also CLC, Vol. 7; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vol. 25.)