October 01, 2005

Finding Ben : a mother's journey through the maze of Asperger's/ Barbara Lasalle

Brutally honest.

That's how the book came across to me. In the preface, Lasalle explains that even though the book was about her, her journey and discovery, she wasn't sure if it was OK for her to write the story so she had to ask for permission from her son, Benjamin. Her hesitation became clear when reading more of the book.

ISBN: 0071431942
NLB Call No.: 618.9289820092 LAS
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It tells of one mother's experience of discovering her child not behaving like other kids his age, and not quite knowing what exactly was the problem because medical science had yet to give a proper diagnosis and name to the problem.

While much of the story is from the mother's point of view -- of trying to find a school for a son who couldn't quite fit in (none of the teachers understood his condition either); of her strained relationship with her ex-husband and even the second one; of her frustrations of her son's behaviour and weight problem.

Her story is also interspersed with the Ben's personal account of certain specific episodes of his life. Like the part where he was arrested and jailed, being humiliated by the police and prisoners alike. It's especially poignant when told by Ben himself.

Lasalle does not gloss over her disappointment, shame, guilt and bitterness of having a son with Asperger's. It was this brutal honesty that kept me turning the pages.

What's interesting is also Lasalle's account (near the end of the book) of her meeting Jack -- a man who spoke in riddles and in non-linear and logical ways due to an aneurysm. Yet Jack's utterances sometimes made the most sense, in a strange way.

The reader learns that there is no cure for Asperger's. One has to just deal with it as best as one can. That's the medical reality and it is this factual acceptance that enables both Barbara and Ben to cope.

P. 273 has a list of recommended resources:
  • Books and articles on Asperger's Syndrome
  • Books on dealing with Issues of Loss and Disappointment
  • Mother's Accounts
  • Support Groups

Benjamin has an official website at http://aspergerjourney.com/

The fifth mountain/ Paulo Coelho

I didn't quite get what Paulo Coelho's introduction alluded to, until after reading the last page of the book. I think that's the beauty of this particular story.

ISBN: 0060175443/ 0722536542
NLB Call No.: COE
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In his introduction, Coelho gave an example of how he was suddenly dismissed from his job when his career was at its peak. So basically, the story attempts to answer the question of why problems and tragedies seem to befall on people when they are at their most secure and confident time of their lives.

The Fifth mountain tells the story of the Bible's Prophet Elijah from Elijah's perspective -- his escape from persecution and then winding up in the city of Akbar.

The chapters are short and succint. I borrowed this so that I had something to read on my 16-hour flight to Oslo, Norway. Finished it when I touched down in Norway. Perfect timing.

The writing was simply poetry in motion to me. Very Zen.

Little wonder that Coelho's works are labelled as "Spiritual Fiction". Fifth Mountain was my first Coelho's story. If this is representative of Coelho's works, I'm definitely going to read more.

P. 21: Souls too, like rivulets and plants, needed a different kind of rain: hope, faith, a reason to live. When this did not come to pass, everything in that soul died, even if the body went on living

P. 64: The high priest knew that, of all the weapons of destruction that man could invent, the most terrible -- and the most powerful -- was the word. Daggers and spears left traces of blood; arrows could be seen at a distance. Poisons were detected in the end and avoided. But the word managed to destroy without leaving clues.

P. 128: "All life's battles teach us something, even those we lose. When you grow up, you'll discover that you have defended lies, deceived yourself, or suffered for foolishness. If you are a good warrior, you will not blame yourself for this, but neither will you allow your mistakes to repeat themselves."

P. 145: "... Fear reaches only to the point where the unavoidable begins; from there on, it loses its meaning. And all we have left is the hope that we are making the right decision."

P. 180: "... They had achieved everything they desired because they were not limited by the frustrations of the past."

P. 193: "The pain you and I feel will never go away, but work will help us to bear it. Suffering has no strength to wound a weary body."

P. 201: "... I know that children have no past... A child can always teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires."

P. 212: "Tragedies do happen. We can discover the reason, blame others, imagine how different our lives would be had they not occurred. But none of that is important: they did occur, and so be it. From there onward we must put aside the fear that they awoke in us and begin to rebuild."

A morbid taste for bones/ Ellis Peters

This is the first of the 'Brother Cadfael' series by Ellis Peters, (pen name of Edith Pargeter). I remember staying up late to watch the television series, starring Sir Derek Jacobi.

NLB Call No.: PET
ISBN: 0751517496
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Set in A.D. 1100 England, the series centers around the main character, Brother Cadfael, who's an ex-soldier of the Crusades turned monk, with a talent for solving crimes.

The story starts with acquisition of the remains of Saint Winifred by the Abbey. It's actually a ploy by the ambitious head of the Abbey, Prior Robert, to consolidate his political power. The remains are in a remote Welsh village and the Welsh are not on friendly terms with the English. Negotiations turn sour when Prior Robert tried to bribe the defacto-representative of the villagers, Rhisiart. Soon after, Rhisiart was found murdered and that's where the story takes off.

The writing is beautiful. It reminded me why I liked to read when I was younger, which was partly to pick up choice words for use in English composition homework:
"'God resolves all given time,' said Cai philosophically and trudged away into the darknesg. And Cadfael returned along the path with the uncomfortable feeling that God, nevertheless, required help from men, and what he mostly got was hinderance."

"His chin was shaven clean, and all the bones of his face were as bold and elegant as his colouring was vivid, with russet brushings of sun on high cheekbones, and a red, audacious, self-willed mouth."

"Brother Cadfael let loose his bardic blood, and rejoiced silently. Not even because it was Prior Robert recoiling into marble rage under Welsh seige. Only because it was a Welsh voice that cried battle."

A very engaging read. The characters are believable and the story is made even more interesting with the sub-plots, like the romance between Sioned and the foreigner Engelard (who becomes the chief suspect); Brother John and the Welsh girl, Annest. What was interesting was that both girls are Welsh and the men are English, and the couples had cultural and language barriers to overcome.

Like all good crime novels, you are kept guessing as to who is the real murderer. You would like this if you also like historical fiction.