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He says the institute is an apartment building. . . . “It’s an apartment building for saints. . . . These poor foolish crazies are saints beneath their Chinese sheets, their mass-produced shrouds. The nun is a saint; the night-light on her bedside table makes her glow like an ex-voto. The doctor is the biggest saint of them all. He’s the head saint. He’s Jesus Christ.” 

Thus Nicola recounts his thirty-five years in the “electric asylum.” Reality and fantasy clash in his disordered mind, resulting in unpredictable revelations. This book and the theatrical monologue of the same name are the fruits of the nearly four years that Ascanio Celestini spent traveling through Italy listening to and recording stories about psychiatric hospitals. Thanks to the oral histories and recollections of nurses, doctors, and patients, he realized not only that the institution of the mental asylum is still running—despite groundbreaking 1978 Italian legislation geared toward the gradual and total dismantling of this system—but also that the anguish and fears of the “crazies” are still very much alive within us all. And it is for this reason that these phantasmagoric stories are capable of moving us to laughter and to tears.

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