From Publishers Weekly
Nazeer, a successful British government policy adviser, was diagnosed early on with autism; he now seeks out the fate of four autistic classmates at his former New York City school. He first encountered the "idiots" (as one of them called the group) more than 20 years ago, in an unnamed private school that has subsequently closed. In addition to interviewing the former pupils, all but one (who committed suicide) enjoying varying degrees of success in the greater world, Nazeer also visits the school's former director and special-needs teacher to learn how teaching autistic students has evolved. Considered a neurobiological disorder, autism largely confines a child to his or her own mental world. André, for example, living in Boston with his sister, became a competent computer researcher and manages to mediate the challenges of ordinary conversation through the use of a puppet. Randall, a courier in Chicago, demonstrates how early "parallel" play led to a satisfying love relationship (developing empathy is difficult for the autistic). Craig became an accomplished speechwriter until his awkward social skills derailed him, while Elizabeth immersed herself in playing the piano before withdrawing completely. Nazeer delicately interweaves his own story of being "cured" for an enlightening journey through the unreachable mind. (Apr.)
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In the early nineteen-eighties, Nazeer was enrolled in a New York school for autistic children, and this innovative examination of autism is structured as a series of encounters with former classmates, through whose stories he sketches various aspects of the condition. Not surprisingly, those who participated are near the high-functioning end of the spectrum, but Nazeer shows that such normalcy is hard-won and precarious, as in the case of a man whose autistic communication habits make him an outstanding political speechwriter but hinder him in job interviews. Nazeer's own accomplishmentshe has a Ph.D. and now works in the British civil servicehave caused him to question his diagnosis. Nonetheless, his memorable writing style, humorous but stripped of all subjectivity ("Relationships are complex, not susceptible to rule governance or local coherence"), is superbly adapted to convey something of an autistic's world view.
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