LIFE AS WE KNOW IT

A FATHER, A FAMILY, AND AN EXCEPTIONAL CHILD

An engaging personal account of raising a son with Down syndrome, by a loving father for whom the experience raises serious questions about the nature of social justice, natural rights, and our obligations to one another. Although BÇrubÇ (English/Univ. of Illinois) and his 36-year-old wife, Janet, chose not to have amniocentesis, their decision to forgo prenatal testing, and by implication abortion, is not one he would mandate for others. He argues persuasively that there are some areas of human life in which individuals must be free from political coercion and must be given the private legal space to make exceedingly difficult life-and-death decisions. For him, a larger concern than the abortion issue is the risk that disabled children like his Jamie will come to be regarded by society as unproductive citizens and therefore unaffordable luxuries. By writing about Jamie, he hopes to correct that notion, arguing that such children can become productive and making Jamie's claims on society loudly and clearly. Interwoven with this story of Jamie's physical and cognitive development in the first four years of his life are BÇrubÇ's discussions of the changing laws concerning the rights of the disabled and the various ways in which disabled children are educated. He gives an especially lucid picture of the variability and inconsistency with which individual states handle special education and of the incentives for school districts to segregate students by mental or physical ability. By raising questions about what it means to be human and by showing us that his son is indeed fully human, the author helps us to understand what it is to be a person with Down syndrome. A staff nurse at the hospital where Jamie was born, taking notes on how the BÇrubÇs were coping, wrote that they seemed ``to be intellectualizing.'' BÇrubÇ's ability to do so is precisely what distinguishes this thought-provoking account from the usual overcoming-handicaps narrative. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44223-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1996

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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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