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Born Twice Paperback – October 14, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 191 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037572768X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727689
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,933,894 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Veteran Italian writer Pontiggia illuminates "the distance that exists between the disabled and us" in this compassionate, deeply moral novel, his first to appear in English. When high school teacher Frigerio's son Paolo is born, a physician's ineptitude leaves the boy with permanent disabilities. Frigerio and his wife, Franca, are informed by a therapist that Paolo suffers from a neurological disorder that slows his learning and permanently hinders his motor skills, though he is quite lucid and intelligent. The novel comprises brief vignettes over Paolo's first 30 years, in which Frigerio offers wry observations about his complicated relationship with the boy and about the way others react to him. Frigerio parses doctors' examinations for hidden meanings, noting that conversations are conducted so that "no one ever has to say the truth." Franca provides a thorny counterpoint kind to Paolo and justifiably impatient with Frigerio but she is perhaps less realistic about the child's condition. Frigerio muses on the many ways people most notably an odious, manipulative principal who uses a bad leg as a psychological weapon exploit their own disabilities. Franca and their other son, Alfredo, have only bit parts; even Paolo often seems like a cipher hovering in the background. But Frigerio dogged, intelligent and self-aware will win readers over with an array of casual yet profound insights into the human condition ("Why not test for stupidity as a planetary epidemic?") and his fierce dedication to his son.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

This taciturn, extremely intelligent novel won Italy's Strega Prize. When Professor Frigerio's son Paolo is born, he sustains cerebral lesions as the result of an inept delivery; his mind isn't impaired, it turns out, but he lurches when he walks and has difficulty speaking. There's very little railing at Fate here (and there's a profoundly un-American lack of interest in litigation); rather, Frigerio's wry, fugue-like series of meditations on what Paolo's disabilities mean, over time, to him, to Paolo's intent, impassioned mother, Franca, and to Paolo himself turns into a subtle, unsentimental primer not only on the nature of disability but on the pitfalls we encounter when we try to turn a child into someone else.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on November 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Labeling this book a "novel" does it as much of a disservice as labeling the main character's son Paolo "disabled." In both cases, the labels are limiting. And limits are what the book is all about--the limits Prof. Frigerio feels in his ability to help his son, the limits of the public institutions set up to help the family, the limits of everyone's patience, the limits of Frigerio's ability to identify with his son's problems, and his son's limits in helping the world to know him and his abilities.
More a memoir about Paolo's childhood than a novel, the book sensitively and uncompromisingly portrays the difficulties of raising a child whose abilities are limited in some areas but normal in others. A medical mistake at Paolo's birth has left him unable to walk or talk like other children, though he is intelligent, and Professor Frigerio and his wife must take the lead in finding help for him and for themselves. Early on, a doctor tells Frigerio, "These children are born twice. Their second birth depends on you, on what you are able to give to them." Taking this to heart, Frigerio works to find therapists, support groups, a nurturing school environment, psychologists, and whatever else it takes to ensure that his son has the best possible chance for success.
By turns philosophical, humorous, resentful, and highly sensitive, Frigerio is an acute observer of the reactions of other people, including the medical profession, toward his son, and he speaks to the reader in uncompromising terms. Intentionally or not, however, he remains at a distance, as much an observer as a participant in his son's life, and his wife and older son Alfredo, who are as directly affected as Frigerio, appear infrequently.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, or in this instance the dust jacket. I picked this gem up at a used bookstore in the French Quarter in New Orleans because of the beautifully colored butterflies on its cover, because of its publisher-- I seldom go wrong with Knopf-- and after reading that its author whom I had never heard of previously had won Italy's most prestigious literary award for it. Giuseppe Pontiggia's BORN TWICE (translated by Oonagh Stransky), labeled "A Novel of Fatherhood" is I suppose appropriate reading on the eve of Father's Day as well.

The narrator is Professor Frigerio, a teacher who relates 30 years of the life of his son Paolo and how his son's disability affects the members of his family's lives. Paolo is the victim of an incompetent physician who should have ordered a C section for his mother and did not. The sad results are that both Paolo's speech and gait are impaired although he is quite brilliant. The Frigerio family and their circumstances sound all too familiar: the doctors at first are not completely honest about Paolo's diagnosis. Then a psysiotherapist tells them the truth ('"But this child has brain damage!'") and they choose to reject her. Paolo's older brother Alfredo is jealous because his disabled brother gets all the attention. In an obligatory group therapy session that the Frigerios attend, a woman whose son isn't very seriously damaged takes great comfort in knowing that others in the group are worse off, "like a first-class traveler visiting the third-class deck." After all the exercises that the father puts his son through, he realizes that Paolo would have made the same improvement if left alone, but all the gymnastics had given the family hope.

Professor Frigerio and his family will wrap themselves around your heart.
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By leekmuncher on April 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is a surprising book. To be honest, I suspected something mawkish and trite, push-button emotional manipulation which causes uncontrollable sobbing and leaves you no wiser than when you started. I was wrong.

The book is a collection of episodes from the life of Professor Frigerio (a name I found resonant) and his son Paolo. Each is told in spare prose, in beautifully crafted sentences – I was already reaching for the Post-Its in Chapter Two. Pontiggia achieves a clinical detachment through his precise, curt chapters, inviting the reader to observe, learn, judge, accept or rail against the circumstances.

Paolo is born severely disabled. This appears to be partly the fault of the medical profession, partly the fault of his wife and her family. The story explores how the professor learns about his own special needs while coming to terms with those of his son. Frigerio suffers guilt surrounding his own infidelity, tests his theoretical opposition to prejudice against disabled people versus his will to have his son conform, battles with his own resentments towards authority, clashes with his wife and older son regarding how to treat Paolo and discovers how much his younger son has to teach him.

It’s not an easy read. It’s sharply painful and the author’s laser-pointed language doesn’t allow for evasion. You are drawn into this world, constantly comparing ‘What would I do?’ while vacillating between sympathy and infuriation with the narrator. It moved me deeply, but more importantly, made me question my own attitudes. Highly recommended for those who, just once in a while, want to examine what a principle really means.
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