Mukhopadhyay’s detailed account of how the autistic mind works sheds light on a condition usually characterized by the...

HOW CAN I TALK IF MY LIPS DON’T MOVE?

INSIDE MY AUTISTIC MIND

First-person narrative of living with severe autism.

Diagnosed at age three, Mukhopadhyay (The Gold of the Sunbeams, 2005, etc.) was virtually mute. As a child he could not look at faces; he reports that even today recognizing faces remains extremely difficult, even threatening, especially if any social interaction is necessary. When stressed or fearful, he screams uncontrollably; when overwhelmed by sensory input, he flaps his hands repeatedly. Reflections in a mirror and shadows on the ground hold stories that only he can sense. He finds new situations or unexpected changes in his environment intensely disturbing, even alarming. He becomes obsessed with certain familiar objects—a rotating overhead fan, light switches, staircases and escalators, buses and trains. During a period living in California, he felt “trapped in a plastic box, suffocated” if he could not take the same bus-and-metro trip every day. Fortunately for Mukhopadhyay, he was raised by an extraordinarily determined and persistent mother. Parents of autistic children will take special interest in his mother’s step-by-step methods for controlling his aggressive and repetitive behaviors and for teaching him to perform simple tasks like tying his shoes and putting on a shirt. With her help, he learned when he was about six to trace and then write the letters of the alphabet and eventually to form them into words. Poems emerged that reveal his unique sensibility: “And all my mirror tales are gone / As my life goes on and on / Through my age, yet stories follow / Into the world of my shadow.” Questioning his reason for being, he tells himself that perhaps it is to remind people to be thankful for their gifts.

Mukhopadhyay’s detailed account of how the autistic mind works sheds light on a condition usually characterized by the inability to communicate.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-55970-859-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2007

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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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