Families: Portrait of the Autist

A mother's memoir of a handicapped daughter illuminates what it is to be human

One might expect a mother's memoir about a handicapped daughter to be a tale of tragedy or an account of a miraculous breakthrough. Exiting Nirvana (Little, Brown; 225 pages; $23.95), Clara Claiborne Park's new book about her autistic daughter Jessy, is neither--or perhaps it is both. Jessy's autism is incurable, but her story is nonetheless one of triumph, of a thousand small skills arduously acquired and a thousand more yet to be mastered.

The publication of Exiting Nirvana, about Jessy's adolescence and adulthood, coincides with the reprinting of The Siege, Clara's 1967 account of Jessy's first eight years. Together these two...

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