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Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter's Life with Autism Paperback – March 28, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (March 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316691240
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316691246
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #767,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

HThirty-four years after The Siege, Park's account of her autistic daughter's first eight years, she delineates Jessy's journey from being a barely verbal child to an adult fascinated with language and the mind. According to Park, Jessy exhibits many of the idiosyncratic mathematical obsessions associated with autism, but has fewer verbal skills than other autistic people. A superb artist, she stuns viewers with her dynamic paintings, which sell well. Her stable and happy life consists of painting; working in the mailroom at Williams College, where until recently her mother taught English; cooking; and doing most of the housework in the home she shares with her aging parents. Though a blessing, these achievements are fragile; Jessy can never live alone, she speaks English as if it were a second language and, equipped with even less understanding of emotions than most of us, cannot truly grasp nuanced human interaction. Park has been both mother and anthropologist, recording verbal and social breakthroughs and setbacks, administering praise and succor. She describes the serene insularity of the autist's "Nirvana," and observes collisions between the autistic and external worlds. She's urged Jessy to enter, "yet never entirely," the extraordinary dailiness inhabited by nonautistic people. In incisive, often exquisite prose, Park affords entry into Jessy's and her own remarkable journey between the two. Illus. (Mar. 8) Forecast: Oliver Sacks, who featured Jessy in his PBS series The Mind Traveller, has contributed an enthusiastic introduction to this deserving book, which will appeal to readers of Karyn Seroussi and Bernard Rimland's Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (2000) and Temple Grandin and Oliver Sacks's Thinking in Pictures (1996); expect healthy sales.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Park's earlier work, The Siege (LJ 11/1/67), was one of the first accounts by a mother of a family's attempts to communicate with an autistic child. In this sequel, Park, a former professor of English at Williams College and a well-known speaker on autism, reviews her daughter Jessy's development over 40 years, recording achievements as well as setbacks. Jessy, now middle-aged, keeps house for her elderly parents, works as a mail clerk, and is a successful artist. Park describes Jessy's ecstatic delight in numerical systems, colors, and categories and the ways that she has channeled these obsessions into her paintings and into routines for daily living. Yet Jessy's social and verbal skills remain incomplete; she continues to have difficulty putting herself in others' situations, understanding different points of view, and expressing feelings. For Park, Jessy's "real achievements are in the realm of the practical, the necessary, the unromanticizable the things that make her employable in the community and useful at home." This beautifully crafted portrait of an autistic adult artist includes color reproductions of Jessy's paintings, with descriptions in her own handwriting. Recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/00; Park's essay of the same name appeared in the American Scholar and won the Feature Writing category at the 1999 National Magazine Awards. Ed.] Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., C.
- Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By K. Corn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read an excerpt of this book in Harper's magazine before I found the book itself and was mesmerized by the account of living with an autistic child - written by of the parent of one. It is clear that Clara Claiborne Park, the mother of Jessy Park, has also tried to understand her daughter's perceptions of the world, at least as much as any non-autistic person can, and to reveal that world to "outsiders" (those with no first-hand experience being with an autistic person). She has done an admirable job. I've read quite a bit about autism and autistic children and this book ranks among the best. In addition to her own feelings, Jessy's mother uses Jessy's own quotations and poems to try and help others understand her daughter's world. Like another relatively well-knonw autistic, Temple Grandin, Jessy is a "high-functioning" autistic. She can hold down a job, she has had art exhibitions of her drawings and she attended school for many years. Still, her world is far from what most of us would call normal and her social interactions with people outside her family are still rather limited. She has trouble with unexpected changes in her usual routine and she has never fallen in love, at least not with another person. She sees the world in minute detail in some areas, creating drawings that are extemely precise and accurate, and yet fails to grasp the subtle nuances of social give and take, the emotional vocabulary so many of us take for granted. What I found particularly fascinating about this book was the way it changed my perspective about what normalcy is.Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rashida S. Johnson on March 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Existing Nirvana: a daughter's life with autism, by Clara Claiborne Park, is a book about Jessy, the author's daughter, growing up with autism. Although it would seem to be hard growing up with autism, rather than focusing on the negative, Park shares the story of her daughter focusing on her differences from `normal' people in society and stressing the remarkable progress Jessy has made despite her abnormalities. This progress has allowed her to mentally and socially move more and more from her own world, `Nirvana', into the world in which everyone else operates. By giving an account of Jessy's life, the reader becomes more aware of the disability and its characteristics. The book focuses on they way individuals with autism think and even their speech. The speech portion of the story is more focused on Jessy specifically because her speech was worse than most individuals with autism. Park uses journals and pictures Jessy has drawn to looking deeper into her speech, thought process, portraits, and her current living. Through these different aspects, the reader becomes enlightened on the type of characteristics that define autism.
One of the many strengths of Exiting Nirvana is that readers receive an accurate account of autism by the specific analysis of the way individuals with this disability think and respond to situations. In addition to this, it shows the possible personal growth from childhood to adulthood of someone with autism. One of the weaknesses is that Park does not focus on Jessy's negative qualities. Although they are not totally ignored, the book idealizes autism by continually expressing Jessy's happiness. "She is still happy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By The Feisty Curmudgeon on June 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
Exiting Nirvana" is a mother's account of her autistic daughter, Jessy, and Jessy's life from her teens until the time the book was was published, when Jessy was in her early 40s. I found that the way the chapters of the book were presented was a little bit odd. Instead of starting with Jessy's teens and moving forward, showing her progress that way, the author divides the chapters into aspects of Jessy's behavior and life: i.e., the way Jessy talks and the ways she thinks. I found that some of the chapters seemed to be haphazardly written. Ideas didn't seem to flow easily from one paragraph to the next and were hard to follow. The author spent a lot of time discussing Jessy's obsession with numbers and this portion was especially confusing. I wasn't sure exactly what point the author was trying to get across...other than the fact that Jessy was obsessed with numbers and tended to look at the world that way. Later chapters, however, were quite well written, and I think the author had easier time discussing Jessy's life when Jessy herself was easier for the author to understand.
In many ways I thought the book was too short. I wanted to know more about Jessy, particularly about how she interacted with her father and her siblings, which the author barely touches on. We know that Jessy has siblings, but how Jessy fit in with them and interacted with them is rarely mentioned. There is a brief mention of Jessy moving the family cat's water dish, but that was the only clue that the family had any pets, so I was also left wondering how Jessy interacted with the family's pets.
However, I do think that "Exiting Nirvana" is helpful in understanding the way an autistic mind works, and is an interesting read for that alone.
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