I recently read The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by David Mitchell and KA Yoshida. This is not typical reading for me, but there are more than just a few reasons for me to pick this up.
I don’t read many Japanese books, even translated in English. Surprising, considering I live here. I’d long wondered about autism, however. I have a good friend whose child is in the spectrum. The translator is a famous author, whom I particularly like recently. I read The Bone Clocks, and reviewed it here. If you’ve heard of Cloud Atlas, the book or movie, it’s the same author. Some more connection there, too. Turns out, Mitchell lived in Japan in the 90s, married a local girl, the co-translator of the book, and had two children. Sounds pretty familiar. Difference is, one of his children has autism.
He and his wife, Keiko Yoshida, were living in Ireland when they got the diagnosis. She bought the Japanese book, translated it into English to share with other parents of autistic children. Mitchell, having garnered some fame from his earlier works, polished her translation, and used his fame to give the book some attention. Power to them.
I read a little online about the book. Some claim Naoki isn’t autistic because of how eloquently he writes. I’m not one to say either way, but the English translation is indeed surprisingly eloquent. He explains what he can, including his own frustrations, and asks for compassion and patience. In Mitchell’s introduction, he writes, “The conclusion is that both emotional poverty and an aversion to company are not symptoms of autism but consequences of autism, its harsh lockdown on self-expression and society’s near-pristine ignorance about what’s happening inside autistic heads.”
I’d say that, at least for this reader, Mitchell was successful. I read this book largely because of the fame of the translator and learned a lot. I can’t say that I’m now educated, but I think that Mitchell was. As he said, “you can be ten times more patient, willing, understanding and communicative.”
As with so many things in life, once you’re thinking about something, you see it everywhere. Below is a fascinating podcast I heard last week about a neuropsychologist and an opera singer teaming up to train people on the autism spectrum to communicate more fluently.