Book review: Breakup: enduring divorce by Leo Averbach

Faydra Deon
By Faydra Deon September 19, 2012 19:18

Book review: Breakup: enduring divorce by Leo Averbach

Author’s summary:

Breakup is a brutally honest and unusual divorce memoir, written as a journal in real time. Averbach’s narrative interweaves his ordeal with his psychotherapy in a deeply- reflective, intimate manner. His concomitant process of transformation gives Breakup a far-reaching significance that is quite compelling.


Millions of people divorce, and no two divorces are ever the same.

Even if every person enduring divorce has some of the same emotions and feelings—sadness, anger, loss, depression, relief, happiness—every experience is a “snowflake” or “fingerprint” experience.

Breakup: enduring divorce is not a beginning-middle-end story, so it would be inappropriate to review it as such.

How do you put a star rating on someone’s thoughts, feelings and actions as they have chronicled them from day-to-day as they deal with one of the toughest experiences a married person has to go through in their life?

The author, Leo Averbach, literally transcribed entries taken directly from his journal, put a cover on them and mass produced them for the whole wide world to read. It’s a no-holds-barred, fly-on-the-wall look into Leo’s life as he grapples with his wife’s infidelity and his desire to keep his family together, even if that means looking past spousal betrayal to do so. Leo includes it all, even the parts that probably make him look badly to those on the outside looking in. 

This is not an easy book to read. It’s not even a pleasant book to read. It’s raw and real, and it will send you on an emotional roller coaster if you have even half a heart.

If you’ve ever had to endure a divorce, that’s exactly what many people experience in their own process, which is why the read should be challenging, unpleasant and emotionally unstable. If it weren’t, then you’d probably think that Leo sugar-coated some of the more difficult and embarrassing aspects of his memoirs.

The audience for Breakup: enduring divorce is not the person in the marriage who wants the divorce. It’s for the person in the marriage who doesn’t want the divorce, but has to endure—a perfectly-chosen word to describe it—all that comes with the breakup of trust and loyalty. Any breach of the marriage covenant has to be dealt with and you endure whatever comes with that.

Leo had to endure his wife leaving and then endure her wanting to come back, which he allowed her to do, and the subsequent chaos she caused once she was back in their home. Keep in mind, too, there were three children who had to endure this process with Leo.

Because that’s the thing about divorce. It doesn’t end when the paperwork is signed, especially when there are children involved. Even though it may not be in your face like it was in the beginning, you spend the rest of your life enduring the breakup of a marriage, even when you’ve moved on to another relationship.

I reserve the privilege not to give Breakup: enduring divorce any type of star rating. The book that resulted from the experiences that Leo chronicled in his journals is an accounting of facts as experienced by and felt through the mind, heart and soul of the author. To trivialize it with the same ratings system we use for something someone made up just doesn’t seem to do the gravity of the subject matter justice.

The Genesis of ‘Breakup’

The journal I kept at the time of my divorce, written in real-time in London in the early nineties, eventually became my memoir BREAKUP. But at the time I had absolutely no intention of turning this detailed, intimate chronicle of the dissolution of my marriage into a book.

During my mid-forties I was feeling low, a sort of dark night of the soul. My work situation was unsatisfactory and my relationship with my wife was at a low ebb, after eighteen years together. As a way of dealing with my predicament I decided to go into therapy and immediately began to record my sessions with my therapist. That was the start of my journal.

A few months into the weekly sessions I began to suspect that my wife was having an affair and I confronted her. My suspicions proved correct. She had started a relationship with a work colleague two months earlier. I was shocked and shaken to the core. As I reeled from the blow the world seemed to collapse around me. I had no idea what lay ahead for us and our three kids. Turmoil, anxiety and confusion reigned.

What I was experiencing immediately expressed itself in my journal and I began to write furiously to keep pace with events. Every day, at all hours, I poured my heart and soul into my journal, unexpurgated and unfiltered. I just wrote, page after page. Sometimes the writing took the form of reams of flowing prose. At others it appeared as telegraphic notes, numbers or even doodles and symbols. From elegant script to an almost illegible, crude scrawl, it faithfully reflected the fluctuations of my mood.

I had to get my feelings out of my system and onto the paper. The very act of writing was cathartic; things written suddenly assumed a clarity that was absent before. In short, my journal became my veritable “shoulder to cry on,” my refuge, my confidante. Of course I continued recording my therapy sessions as well. Frequently it is difficult to know where the therapy ends and where “life” begins.

As my wife and I went through the torture of alternately trying to split up and battling to stay together, on and off over a period of a few years, I would religiously go to my journal and transfer to the page what had happened. It is my version that exists, not my ex-wife’s. It is subjective and one-sided, maybe in the extreme in this case. However, for all its shortcomings, it has the virtue of being a brutally honest record of what I felt and thought at the time. It is an account of marital disintegration executed from the inside, with all its agony and pain, as well as being a testament to my process of transformation, leading to a new life.

I left London in 1998 and stored the journal – twelve thick files plus umpteen little notebooks – in a friend’s garage in north London. In July 2005, while sitting on the veranda of my pottery studio in the Jerusalem hills, I was inspired to resurrect my journal as a book.

When next in London I boldly decided to have all two thousand pages of the journal scanned onto a disc. I then disposed of the originals by putting them into a paper recycling bin. Somehow this act symbolically terminated the journal’s direct, emotional association with the breakup of my marriage and placed it in less emotionally-laden territory.

Back home in Israel I began to type up on my computer the contents of the journal, which I could now see digitalized on an adjacent screen. Given the great length, the multiple, obsessive repetitions and the excessive detailing, I had to exclude a lot if I wanted it to approximate a standard book. So I cut the text drastically; nothing was added. As to distancing me from the trauma, the digitalized format from the disc failed to keep all my emotions at bay. Despite the time lapse of some fifteen years, rereading the journal upset me.

Over the next two years I continued cropping the text. It now stands at 290 pages, just over 100,000 words. In the meantime I have added a prologue as background, a short introduction and an epilogue, divided the text into chapters and made some minor cosmetic alterations to facilitate reading. It has also undergone copy-editing. Essentially BREAKUP, my book, is taken word-for-word from my original journal, dates and all.

1: Betrayed

16 Feb 1990


I am feeling sorry for myself and a bit lost in the world. I have only ever managed to do things for brief spells, like living on a kibbutz, studying, teaching, designing furniture, and so on. Now I live in the shadow of the failure of Rob & Leo Designs. I thought I could run a business when I don’t have a clue and cannot now redeem the situation. It’s lost forever. What I have learnt is not to go into business again. Anyway, it’s no use berating myself. I have to look on the plus side. I am healthy, have a nice family and lovely home. So, why do I find my situation so uninspiring?

I returned from a short holiday in Israel in the summer determined to do something about my “situation.” Therapy of some sort was the obvious answer for me, so I started looking for a therapist. One day I noticed an ad in Time Out for a therapist by the name of Clive, who described himself as a “biodynamic therapist.” Taken by the ad and curious about biodynamic therapy, I phoned him. After we had exchanged a few words he suggested that rather than chat over the phone I should come to see him. The following Friday evening I went over to him in Putney, taking with me a small tray of dates as a gift. After we had chatted for a few minutes Clive said, “This is love. We are going to work together.” I readily agreed.

13 Nov 1990

Two things were on my mind before my first session with Clive: my relationship with my wife Paula and work. We started off by talking about Letting Go: in the present, of the past, of what I think I am, ought to be, etc. He remarked that I am up tight about little things, so I cannot get on with life and have stood still for years. According to him, “There is a general emptiness and depression in you, no joy. It is better to throw it all away.” We spoke about the figure I cut against the world; the phases of my life. It seems I have built up a legend of being a king in Israel—the image of myself I cling to. He asked what feelings I have in relation to my mother and her death. I am unsure. My father was throttling. That I see clearly.

Clive was surprised I cope with my situation without either drugs or alcohol. After the session I felt calm and a bit empty. I was not very coherent and was not clear what Clive said about Mozart’s Magic Flute, particularly the significance of the Maiden of the Night. I’m thinking about the ways my style worked in the past but I realize I am out of touch with reality now.

Copyright© Leo Averbach. All rights reserved.

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Faydra Deon
By Faydra Deon September 19, 2012 19:18
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