WASHINGTON -- What would you do if, in one day, 30 years' worth of life savings just went poof?
Geneen Roth found herself in just this situation. She and her husband became one of the many victims of Bernard L. Madoff, investing nearly $1 million with the con man, who is now serving a 150-year prison sentence for running an estimated $65 billion Ponzi scheme.
How could you not lapse into a catatonic stupor after such a catastrophic loss?
Some of Madoff's victims may never recover mentally.
Now, on the other side of her frightening loss and after much self-analysis, Roth has written "Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money" (Viking, $25.95). Her book is the Color of Money Book Club selection for May.
Roth is the best-selling author of "Women Food and God," in which she examined her relationship with food that led both to her being overweight and dangerously underweight. In her latest book, Roth provides an intimate look at how she found her way to a healthy relationship with money by using the skills she honed battling her compulsive eating.
Roth is courageous in her honesty. She admits that in many ways, she helped Madoff victimize her because she was unconscious about her finances much like the way she unconsciously ate.
"Although I never would have chosen the path of losing our life savings, it is forcing me, in the way that my suffering around food forced me, to wake up, pay attention, question the automatic and reactive trance in which I usually live," Roth writes.
Roth says she never understood the investment strategy that Madoff said he was using to deliver to investors consistently good returns.
"I chose ignorance again and again," she writes.
On reflection, she says it's clear to her now that the adviser who recommended she invest with the swindler didn't understand either how Madoff was supposedly making money for people "because I'd leave our meetings still unable to explain to anyone else how it worked. But that didn't deter me."
Roth is hard on herself, but it's a necessary self-examination.
Describing the first weeks after her financial loss, we see a person who cries, feels sorry for herself and at one point nearly buys a $1,000 pair of glasses before she realizes the purchase is just another escape from reality.
"When I wasn't crying, I desperately wanted to turn back the clock 10 years, two months, even two weeks," she says. "I wanted to know then what I knew now and make different decisions about what to do with our money."