JAKOB by Anna Mitgutsch


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 A relentlessly unrelieved, even claustrophobic, account of a mother struggling to rear her autistic son in the Austrian provinces. Marta, the only child of lower-class parents, has used her intellectual gifts to move up in the world. Now, with a doctorate and a job she loves, she feels that marriage to wealthy Felix (though she isn't sure she loves him) is the logical next step. But after Marta becomes pregnant, self-centered Felix does nothing to help--and is little better when she eventually gives birth to the beautiful but different Jakob. When Jakob fails to thrive and screams for no reason, Felix first accuses Marta of having had an affair with Jan (who, he suggests, is the father of this strange child); then, like all the specialists Marta consults, he blames her for the child's behavior. What follows is a chronicle of Marta fighting for her child, whom she loves deeply, and struggling to survive the breakdown of the marriage; the cruelty of friends and relatives; the malevolence of neighbors; and the total lack of help, even kindness, from the authorities, both medical and educational. Jakob, like many autistic children, has some extraordinary abilities but will never make the necessary connections, though Marta devotes her life to teaching him. As he grows older, and the persecutions continue, she realizes that the two of them are surrounded by a boundary--``something invisible that they carried about with them.'' It is unlikely to disappear. Yes, mothers are sometimes blamed unfairly; fathers can be selfish; and people are often cruel; and, yes, Mitgutsch (Three Daughters, 1987) has written a searing portrait of a mother's fierce love for her child. But it is a portrait without shading, and this ultimately vitiates the themes.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-15-145978-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991


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