Shtum by Jem Lester
Lester’s ‘Shtum’ explores the realities facing parents and their autistic child
Ben Jewell’s 10-year-old son Jonah has a severe type of autism that means he hasn’t ever spoken: “His mind is like a dictionary with the pages glued together.” Jonah’s not the only one keeping shtum in this compelling and angry debut by former journalist Jem Lester. When Ben and his wife Emma plan a strategic separation to dupe the council into giving them much-needed resources, Ben and Jonah move in with Ben’s elderly father Georg. A Hungarian Jew who emigrated to London, Georg is better able to communicate with his grandson than he is with Ben. In jaunty snippets, Lester dismantles the stereotype of the gifted autistic child and paints a grim reality of panic and powerlessness from a parent’s perspective. Ben’s bitter, borderline alcoholic personality can be off-putting but the family’s ordeal grips the reader.