The Reason I Jump, By Naoki Higashida. Sceptre, £10.99
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books, 2013, and is currently a judge of the Fiction Uncovered Prize, 2014.
Thursday 04 July 2013
Like many autistic children, Naoki Higashida was stranded in a lonely universe, unable to communicate. Then a system was developed in which he pointed to an alphabet grid to spell out words. The Reason I Jump, written by the Japanese author at the age of 13 (he is now 21), offers sometimes tormented, sometimes joyous, insights into autism's locked-in universe.
David Mitchell, the twice Man Booker-shortlisted novelist, explains in his introduction how, together with his wife KA Yoshida, he began translating the book from its original Japanese after finding its wisdom invaluable in the care of their autistic son. Yet Nigashida's child's-eye view of autism is as much a winsome work of the imagination as it is a user's manual for parents, carers and teachers. In its quirky humour and courage, it resembles Albert Espinosa's Spanish bestseller, The Yellow World, which captured the inner world of childhood cancer.
This book gives us autism from the inside, as we have never seen it. Explanations of why many autistic children like to spin around, or watch TV adverts, are interspersed with stories, the longest of which encompasses a charming kind of children's magical realism.
Its explanation, advice and, most poignantly, its guilt ("The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other people"), offers readers eloquent access into an almost entirely unknown world.
Chapters begin as questions to be answered, so "Why Can't You Have a Proper Conversation?" is answered with: "Verbal junk that hasn't got anything to do with anything else comes pouring out of my mouth". Descriptions of panic, distress and the isolation that autistic children feel as a result of the greater world's ignorance of their condition are counterbalanced by the most astonishing glimpses of autism's exhilaration. These are the most vivid and mesmerising moments of the book: "When a colour is vivid or a shape is eye-catching, then that's the detail that claims our attention, and then my heart kind of drowns in it, and we can't concentrate on anything else."
Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
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