Genre: General Fiction
Publication date: January 26th, 2016
Page Count: 313
Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.
Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.
When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.
A powerful, emotional, but above all enjoyable read, perfect for fans of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.
Shtum is my book for #TheReadingQuest Challenge: A Book With a One Word Title
It says that this book is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Shock of The Fall. Given that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both books, I couldn’t miss out on another amazing autism-centered book.
And Shtum did not disappoint.
Shtum, which means “voiceless” in Yiddish, is the story of a father, Ben, who has an autistic son who cannot talk, Jonah. Ben struggles to great lengths to enroll his son in one of the best autism-centered schools. In retrospect, this book is about Ben’s fight to get the best care for his autistic son, and his personal struggles with his estranged father and wife, and alcoholism in between. Shtum explored family dynamics so well and so emotionally truthful, that you can’t help but to feel pain alongside Ben.
A fair warning to those thinking of picking Shtum up: be prepared for the emotional turbulence you’ll encounter in this book. Because it will break your heart.
Just like the two aforementioned books on autism, Shtum is a perfect book that provides an almost comprehensive view into how difficult and wonderful it is to raise a child at the extreme end of the Autistic Specturm Disorder (ASD). Given how the son of the author has ASD and was enrolled in a special school, no doubt this book is the real deal.
When Ben and his wife fake a separation in order to help their case, we see the ugly truth behind how handling a special-needs child can take a toll of marriage and life. But Shtum isn’t just wonderful because of its great capability to portray autism life and those who care for them. Shtum is heartrendingly beautiful because it portrays the human condition of love, struggles, and self acceptance so well, you can’t help but to feel pained at the accuracy. The ups and downs in this book felt like a never-ending roller coaster ride. And don’t get me started on the dry British humour incorporated in this book. All those components contributed to how real Ben and Jonah’s living conditions were. It’s an eye opener to the struggles of living with autism, both from the point of view of the autistic and the carer.
And that is what makes this book such a ‘Jem’. Get it?
Punny jokes aside, I have to admit, I was expecting Jonah to make a grand entrance by being able to talk and teaching his parents what he wants in his life. But we don’t get that, at all. So clear any expectations you might have of Jonah speaking up verbally. Because he might not say any words at all in the book, but he is still capable of giving life lessons on identifying truths and believing in what we do that’s right for our loved ones. Despite his silence, Jonah remains the main characters of this book through the narrative provided by his father and grandfather and this is what makes him and the book so special.
Hands down, I am a huge fan of Shtum because I love books about family and marriages. Put in the struggles of having both and I’m sold. Shtum is a book for people looking to find the meaning of life in the simple routines of having a family and raising a child.
Because this isn’t an inspirational book about traveling to discover yourself. This is a book about being the best parent you can be for your child and making the best of your circumstances.
“It’s not words. It’s not words.
But you don’t see with your eyes, like every other fool you see with your ears. You heard love from Emma, you heard devotion from Emma, you heard yourself tell yourself that you love Emma,
but what did you see?
What did you do?”