Another reviewer of this book gave it 1 star, apparently because she questioned its authenticity. That is, she questioned whether it is truly the work of an autistic young man, as it is claimed to be. Considering the book's subject matter, it is perhaps not surprising that her suspicion was met with sometimes vitriolic comments, as some readers seemed to take it as an affront to their intensely-lived personal experience. But at the risk of attracting similar attacks, I must admit to my own kind of skepticism.
Certainly, the aforementioned reviewer's focus on word choice is irrelevant here as a criterion by which to infer authorship, as this is a translation. But I agree with that reviewer's concern about the author's tendency to speak for all autistic people. Though some comments questioned this observation, it is not merely an interpretation or projection; Mr. Higashida does in fact repeatedly and explicitly speak for all autistic people. If you don't yet have the book, you can see just as well in the preview the repeated use of "we" or "us" in phrases and sentences that characterize a behavior, attitude, belief or experience as common to all autistic people. This is an appropriate cause for concern, as there is great diversity in all populations, including those with autism. It would be unfortunate if readers without direct experience to the contrary were misled into thinking that one autistic person can speak for all.
So it is offensive that several comments insult that reviewer for observing this tendency, accusing her of inventing this notion, as if it is she who thinks all autistic people are alike. Such rough treatment demonstrates the most dangerous kind of ignorance, the kind that is too arrogant (or perhaps simply too necessary) to recognize itself. That is, the literal kind, in which one actively ignores relevant information to maintain an opinion.
But I only mention this because it suggests another, perhaps more fundamental, problematic I encountered in reading this book, one that may help to explain both the aggression and the seemingly willful ignorance of those reactions. As I read this book, one feeling kept insisting itself, until it was something more than a feeling, though perhaps not yet a fully-formed thought. I didn't like this thought, but I couldn't help it: It all felt too good to be true.
It seemed that everything this young man thought and said was so... perfect. So perfectly what his mother, or perhaps any parent in a similar position, maybe all those who care for loved ones with autism, would wish their autistic loved one to say, if only they could, or would, or... I find it difficult to follow this through. It seems wrong even to question it.
But I recognized in these pages again and again this 'wish-fulfillment' quality, until it was difficult to ignore and, as in a dream, I began to question their reality. Waking life is just so seldom so in accord with my wishes.
For these reasons and others, I don't think it inappropriate to wonder aloud about how many acts of translation took place between the various way-points in this book's journey to this publication, and how they might have shaped the text as it is now. After all, just a list of the most obvious intermediaries suggests a game of telephone: there's Mr. Higashida himself, his mother who invented his method of communication, the Japanese editor(s) and publishers, Ms. Yoshida the translator into English, David Mitchell her husband and co-translator, the English editor(s) and publishers, and who knows how many others along the way. All of these people were translators of a sort, and at least a plurality of these translators have personal (and therefore inevitably complicated, emotional, fraught) relationships with loved ones with autism.
Because there can so often seem to be such an unbridgeable gulf between, as Mr. Higashida puts it, 'earthling' and 'autisman' (and of course here I'm thinking especially of the more severe instantiations), and because it is in that gulf that the messy stuff of life happens, it must be that each of those translators wish as intensely as any of us do to leap, to soar across, intact and understood. It must be that so many of them, like so many of us, have no greater wish than to meet a perfect representative. To meet one who can speak from the other side, on this side, one who will tell us exactly what we have always hoped is true.
Perhaps there is value in this book, then, whether it truly bears that wish-fulfilling voice, or merely approximates it. But as for me, I find myself still inside, not yet across, the gulf.