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When I Was Five I Killed Myself (English and English Edition) Paperback – July 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A kind of "Boy, Interrupted" starring a misunderstood eight-year-old, Buten's first novel, written in the late '70s, has likewise been misunderstood stateside. Burton Rembrandt is placed in the Children's Trust Residence Center, an institution for disturbed, psychopathic or autistic children, following an inappropriate amorous encounter with female classmate Jessica. Told in Burt's precocious voice, the story is supposedly written by the boy in pencil on the walls of the Quiet Room. It is a compelling study of the tragedy that can result when literal-minded children and literal-minded adults fail to understand each other. The adults (parents and psychiatrists alike) take little responsibility for the misinformation they spout while they narrowly interpret as sociopathology Burt's innocent comments, normal for any child, about his "hate" or his desire to "kill" something. Wrongly incarcerated with autistic and truly sociopathic children, it is not until Burt encounters a sympathetic psychiatric resident that hope begins to grow, both in Burt and the reader, that the boy will finally be seen for what he is: a child who has a right to an ordinary life. A similar case of mistaken identity has also dogged Buten's novel for 19 years: in 1981 a small, now out-of-print edition of this book was published in the U.S. under the title Burt and was mistakenly billed as a young adult title, receiving little attention. The French translation sold more than a million copies, however, and it has twice been adapted as a film and produced as a play there. Subsequently, Buten published six other novels in France. This psychologically intense tale moves quickly, and the difficult task of creating a child's voice with authenticity and depth proves Buten a gifted stylist and storyteller. The re-publication, after nearly two decades, of this imaginative and provocative book should earn the author the acclaim he deserves on this side of the Atlantic. Agent, the Young Agency. (June) FYI: A clinical psychiatrist, Buten is the founding clinical director of the Adam Shelton Center for the treatment of autism. In the guise of a clown, Buffo, he also performs for autistic children. In 1991, Buten was named a Chevalier des Artes et Lettres, France's highest literary honor.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Published in 1981 as Burt, this novel, told from the point of view of a child, received praise for actually sounding as such. Unfortuntately, it was unfairly marketed as a young adult title, so librarians who passed on it for their adult collections should reconsider this time around.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (July 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743423003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743423007
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #539,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christian on October 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Getting in touch with your inner child" has been given an entirely new voice. "When I Was Five, I Killed Myself", a re-release of an amazing story by Howard Buten, has just found new life on this side of the ocean. Originally published as "Burt" here in the States in 1981, this original and fresh young adult book didn't find immediate success. Buten then published it in France, where it (and he) became known as "one of France's best-loved contemporary writers", even though the author and the story are both American. Go figure.
"When I Was Five..." is the wholly original story of Burton Rembrandt, a precocious and misunderstood young man, trying to grow up around adults who seem to have landed here from another planet. None of their words or actions make much sense to Burton...or Burt...but, neither does he to those who must try and to understand and deal with his unique way of seeing the world around him. When an event transpires totally out of Burt's control, and the resulting backlash lands him in The Children's Trust Residence Center, Burt finds himself in a dangerous and completely alien new world. Nothing makes sense to him anymore...and he reacts in the only way he knows throwing tantrums, aching to voice not only his confusion at the treatment he's recieving, but also at his frustration with not being able to communicate with adults.
Told completely from Burt's point of view, this story is one of the most intelligent and lyrical stories ever written. Given the mysticism of youth and told in a voice that is at once immature and completely adult, this goes down as one of the most influential books I have ever read in this genre. It's message and story literally took my breath away at times...and it's importance lingers long after I've read the last word.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By F. AZOUZ on July 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It's not very often you come across books of this magnitude and scope,it is not easy either to choose a favourite book of all time. Yet this book which I have read years and years ago was a true revelation. It speaks to the child in you, it reaches out to the reader in a mysterious and profound way.It's like reliving a child's dream, remembering a song you used to sing as a child or a face from times forgotten. I think what's best about it is that the more you read it , the more you wish you could do something about it. if all books were written like this one, the word fiction will no longer be appropriate.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bluelens on September 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a beautiful novel. Getting frustrated not being able to find novel "novels" to suit my taste I stumbled upon this gem during my "reading crisis" and started to read it. I admit, I was intrigued by the title and that is why i snatched it from its warm surrounding in the store. Experiencing the mind and situations from Burt's view is a different experience. We all try to remember what it was like when we were kids, but this is different. There are nuances and traits in here that we forget. Innocence that we as adults cannot fathom anymore. And through Burt's writings we are also seeing how a child's mind will piece together a history of experiences and illusions to convey a thread reality. Buten, a clinical psychologist and performing artist (Buffo the clown) doesn't just present an 8-year-old character. He brings that child to life. I have a friend that has 10 year old son. I have known these two for a few years. As I was reading this book I could hear all everything in Chris' voice.
This book keeps hidden the reason why Burt is in the Children's Trust Residence Center until the end. The ending reveals a warmth, compassion and yet a haunting feeling. Very moving.
I want to say more, but I don't want to take away from anyone's reading experience, should they read this.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
"When I was Five I Killed Myself" is a breathaking book, particularly due to its simplicity. This book, told in the first person by an eight-year-old character named Burt, rings with truth. You will recognize feelings you had, things you saw, all the trauma and oddity of your childhood life.
But what's most striking about the book is its ambiguity. Critics on the book's back cover and inset, not to mention other readers, see this as a story of a "disturbed" little boy. Though he clearly has some intense emotional outbursts, and has an imagination that is the stuff of envy, not to mention a serious eye for detail and verbal gifts, it's tough to find any evidence that he is, in fact, as his doctor told him, "a very sick little boy."
Which is the point of the whole book, and what makes it so unnerving: Committed to a house for the emotionally ill and handicapped, surrounded by autists and people with far more glaring problems, you're left asking yourself why. Though his frequent outbursts - or "conniption fits" as he calls them - are intense, so are the qualities he has that we find so precious in children: his honesty, morality, and heart. It would seem that he is there for the adult world's misunderstanding. Rather than suffering an illness, he is made to suffer a prison sentence away from the very people he should be nearest: his loving family.
It's a quick read and a marvel of virtuosity, and it's completely convincing and heart-rending. A very good read.
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