by Galy carmeli-shrim
So , I have heard about Shtum – a book by Jem Lester – a jewish british journalist, the book that is partly autobiography. Lester is the father of Noah, a 15 years old boy with autism, who fights in court to get Noah to attend a boarding school that he feels would best suit Noah’s needs . After a long fight they won.
Lester decided to quit his day job and to write his first novel.
I want to thank the both Lester and the British court myself, becouse this lead to the birth of “Shtum” and Johna (Lester’s fictional character based on Noah).
Despite the fact that this is yet another book portraying the hardships of autism, not unlike “Why I Jump”, I am still extremely grateful I have read it and not because of the autistic aspect, but mainly because of one word – relationships.
The reason I say that may have something to do with the fact that as a mother of an autistic child, which deals with challenges depicted in the book, or may have something to do with the fact that it is simply a great book that discusses and portray Ben’s relationships.
Lester is a master of making complex fictional relationships .
Ben and Emma. Ben and Valentine, Ben and his mother, Ben and his father, a holocaust survivor who shares legacy with his autistic grandson while never sharing that with him.
The heart goes out for the 78 years old grandfather taking care of his 10 years old “baby” while his father (Ben) gets drunk yet again.
I loved this book Because of all the suprises that Lester hides for you in the text. Some surprises bites, some surprises pet, and all may make you want to cry.
I loved the way that through Ben’s eyes we zoom out farther and farther, reveling more aspects of his complex and chaotic life.
Reading this book proved challenging for me not only because of the accuracy of the hardships depicted in it, but mostly because it presented choices and phrases that I personally can’t accept. Phrases like “I love Johna but sometimes I am sorry he was born”. It is not just that I totally disagree with such a claim (and I do), I am mainly concerned about autistic individuals that would be exposed to such sayings.
I do however respect the fact that Lester does not conceal nor masks the hardships of dealing with autism in close proximity, and by doing that shines a light on the topic very different of the general conseption of autism as the “Rain man”.
Sometimes it was like reading my own diary. Like the time Johna got lost in a mall, like my Johnathan that ran out from a toy shop ( – what kid would willingly ran out of a toy shop?). And like Ben I was also fighting for my son’s education, and like him it felt as if for the first time in my life I will not stop fighting until the end I wanted to see.
Lester’s Ben feels his “shtum” (Yidish for mute) – and knows that sometimes Johna express himself better than he could ever do.