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 the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014, and is currently judging the Aesthetica Magazine new writing prize.
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
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 North Korean prison officers 'cooked prisoner's baby and fed it to their dogs', more horrific accounts from UN report reveal
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 4 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Secret Cinema showed The Great Dictator at protest secret screening, following Sony's The Interview cancellation
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Angelina Jolie 'didn't eat much' in sympathy with actors who had to lose weight for Unbroken
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever