Boy Alone

Karl Taro Greenfeld knew from an early age that his little brother, Noah, was not like other children. He couldn't crawl, and had trouble making eye contact or interacting with his family. As Noah grew older, his differences became even more pronounced - he was unable to communicate verbally, use the toilet, or tie his shoes, and despite his angelic demeanor, he often had violent outbursts.
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Description

Boy Alone

A brother's memoir

By Karl Taro Greenfeld

ISBN13: 9780061136665

RRP $27.99


Synopsis

Karl Taro Greenfeld knew from an early age that his little brother, Noah, was not like other children.  He couldn't crawl, and had trouble making eye contact or interacting with his family.  As Noah grew older, his differences became even more pronounced - he was unable to communicate verbally, use the toilet, or tie his shoes, and despite his angelic demeanor, he often had violent outbursts.

No doctor, social worker, or specialist could pinpoint what was wrong with Noah beyond a general diagnosis: autism.  The boys' parents, Josh and Foumi, dedicated their lives to caring for their younger son with myriad approaches - a challenging, often painful experience that the devoted father detailed in a best selling trilogy of books: A Child called Noah, A Place for Noah, and A Client Called Noah.  (Published in 1972, 1978, and 1987, respectively, all these titles are currently out of print.)

Now, for the first time, acclaimed journalist Karl Taro Greenfeld speaks out about growing up in the shadow of his autistic brother, revealing the complex mix of rage, confusion, and love that defined his childhood.  Boy Alone is his brutally honest memoir of the hopes, dreams, and realities of life with a mentally disabled sibling.

Seamlessly weaving together the social history of autism and autism research - as the Greenfelds lived through it in seeking treatment for Noah - with the deeply affecting story of two very different boys growing up side by side, this book raises crucial philosophical questions: Can relationships exist without language?  How should aging parents care for a nonverbal, violent child, and then a grown man who is not self-sufficient?  Is there anything that can be done to help an extremely autistic child or adult become a member of mainstream society?

Haunting, tragic, and unforgettable, this chronicle of autism is a beautiful, wholly original exploration of what it means to be a family, a brother, and a person.


About the Author

Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of three books - Speed Tribes, Standard Deviations, and China Syndrome.  A longtime writer and editor for Time and Sports Illustrated, he is currently a correspondent for Conde Nast Portfolio.  His non-fiction has been anthologized in various Best American collections, and his fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, American Short Fiction, and Best American Short Stories 2009.

He lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters.

 

Review

Autism Spectrum Disorders were so rare prior to the 1960s that most doctors believed they had never seen a case of autism.  Half a decade later, the news media is filled with stories about the latest research findings; numerous books have been published defining, categorising and examining treatments; the disorder has been dramatised in movies; television programmes are incorporating characters with autism and/or Asperger's Syndrome; and you are likely to encounter autistic children at various levels of functionality as your child progresses through school.  But how much do you really know about Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Powerful, moving, at times disturbing, and unforgettable, Boy Alone describes the frustrations and challenges faced by a family caring for a severely autistic boy in an era when treatments were cruel, and often ineffective; parents were blamed as the cause of the condition; and ultimately when all hope was dashed, institutionalization was the only viable option.

Karl Taro Greenfeld takes the reader on a journey of his life thus far: from a young boy trying to make sense of his brother; to the adolescent trying to find his place in the world whilst dealing with the injustices he has been dealt; to the rebellious, misunderstood teenager gone off the rails; and finally, to the respected writer and editor, reformed drug addict, husband and father, who, with so many questions left unanswered, is still trying to make sense of his brother.

Boy Alone is neither an inspirational nor an uplifting memoir and is perhaps best described as exhausting.  Karl's raw honesty draws the reader in and surrounds them with the devastation and desperation experienced by his family.  The highs that are supposed to offset the lows are conspicuously absent throughout much of his account and only when your emotions have sunken as low as they could go, does Karl lift the stormy clouds he'd cast and offers the reader hope.  But the elation is short lived and brutally whipped away.

This narrative approach is nothing short of cruel and families of the severely autistic should think twice before reading the book.  However, Boy Alone serves as an important vehicle to increase  our society's awareness and understanding of Autism - with the hope of encouraging tolerance and acceptance.  If nothing else, it is a reminder that life can be cruel and at times without happy endings.

 

Reviewed by: Franciska

 

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