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Summary and book reviews of Exiting Nirvana by Clara Claiborne Park

Exiting Nirvana

A Daughter's Life with Autism

by Clara Claiborne Park

Exiting Nirvana
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2001, 225 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2002, 240 pages

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Book Summary

Clara Claiborne Park continues the story of her autistic daughter Jessy. In this moving, eloquent memoir, we see Jessy's progressive journey out of her isolated "Nirvana" into the world we all share. An honest and captivating story of emergence, perseverance, and love.

Oliver Sacks called The Siege: A Family's Journey into the World of an Autistic Child "one of the finest personal accounts of autism, and still the best--beautiful and intelligent." Now, in Exiting Nirvana, Clara Claiborne Park continues the story of her daughter Jessy. In this moving, eloquent memoir, we see Jessy's progressive journey out of her isolated "Nirvana" into the world we all share. It is an honest and captivating story of emergence, perseverance, and love.

Jessy Park, now an adult, still struggles with language, with hypersensitivities and obsessions, and with the social interactions that ordinary people take for granted but that she cannot understand. With the help of family, teachers, and friends, Jessy has achieved more than her parents could have hoped for. She has left behind the extraordinary repetitive calculations of her autism for the utilitarian tasks of determining her share of the grocery bill and balancing her checkbook. She has grown into an accomplished artist--her astonishing paintings transfigure the ordinary world with the rainbow colors of Nirvana. More important, she has overcome her social handicaps enough to hold a job, becoming not a burden but a contributing, active member of her family and community. Exiting Nirvana is a luminous, moving story about the making of a self and what it means to be human, an account Jessy's mother must tell for her, since she cannot tell it for herself. But most of all it is a remarkable story of growth, not only in Jessy but in everyone who has touched her and whom she has touched.

INTRODUCTORY

How to begin? In bewilderment, I think --that's the truest way. That's where we began, all those years ago. That's where everyone begins who has to do with autistic children. And even now, when my daughter is past forty...

This morning, at breakfast, Jessy reports an exciting discovery. It's a word. She doesn't say it quite clearly, but it's recognizable: "remembrance." "A new fluffy-in-the-middle! Found in the newspaper! It is fluffy in the middle!" Her voice is triumphant, her face is alight. "I saw one! With five on each side!" Leave that unexplained, in all its strangeness. For now. Shift to something less bizarre. Somewhat less bizarre.

Jessy is painting a church. Her acrylics are neatly arranged on the table beside her. With her sable brush and steady hand she has rendered every brick, every curlicue of the Corinthian capital, every nick and breakage in the old stone, accurately, realistically, recognizably. Except that the ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
New York Times - Derek Bickerton

...a thoughtful, measured assessment, filled with piercing insights into both the autistic condition and the alien mind of the autistic individual. . . . beautifully written and mostly succeeds in making sense out of seemingly senseless behavior.

NJ Courier Post

...eloquent...inspirational...fascinating...

Library Journal

This beautifully crafted portrait of an autistic adult artist includes color reproductions of Jessy's paintings, with descriptions in her own handwriting. Recommended for all libraries.

Publishers Weekly

...observes the autistic and external worlds...in incisive, often exquisite prose, Park affords entry into Jessy's and her own remarkable journey between the two...

Kirkus Reviews

... to her credit, Park does not gloss over the continuing frustrations and limitations of Jessy's participation in the larger world.... Wry, revealing, and thoughtful.

Author Blurb Eric Schopler, Ph.D., Professor and Founder, Division TEACCH, of North Carolina
[The] crowning achievement of a pioneering parent...Park has produced a many faceted gem...a must read for students, professionals, and parents wanting to expand their understanding of autism.

Author Blurb Bryna Siegal,Ph.D., author of The World of the Autistic Child and Director, Pervasive Developmental Disorders Clinic, University of California, San Francisco
...detailed observation and intricate analysis--luminously, intelligently, sensitively done here by Clara Park. Exiting Nirvana is superb.

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