A Child Without a Narrative

Original title: Un enfant sans histoire

Author: Huy, Minh Tran

Publication Date:

August 2022

Pages:

208

Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia

Genre

Literary Fiction

A Child Without a Narrative

Original title: Un enfant sans histoire

Author: Huy, Minh Tran

Synopsis

A novelist, avid reader and fervent lover of fiction, Minh Tran Huy never imagined that she would allow reality to invade her writing. She had never imagined either that the birth of her first son Paul would bring her into intimate contact with disability and turn her into an unwilling expert on the disorders of the autism spectrum and how they are treated (or go untreated). Nor did she imagine that her vocabulary bank and address book would expand so much, or that her relationship to the world would be enriched by so many acronyms, statistics, methodologies and benchmarks – an accumulation of information and knowledge far from her poetic sensibilities even though they can constitute a formidable, if at times fragile, response to impotence. It is through literature that Tran Huy manages to wrestle with and express this earth-shattering experience, the challenge being to recount a story that eludes all conventional narrative strategies.

For Paul is diagnosed with a serious condition and, despite his handsome looks, he does not fall into that Hollywood category of autistic savants. As the years pass, she has to abandon the notion of the secretly brilliant child and resolve herself to adapting Paul as far as possible to a world that has not reckoned on having to accommodate a person like him.

It is as a highly disciplined writer that the mother in distress constructs a narrative capable of capturing Paul’s experience. We know from her novels that she is attracted to correspondences and echo chambers, which are central to her calm and precise art of weaving together narrative strands. By unpacking the story of Temple Grandin, the autistic anti-Paul and animal behaviourist who became a prominent campaigner for the humane treatment of animals and the quintessential American embodiment of a socially integrated autistic person, she manages to make the silence resonate.

With a rare intelligence and finesse, Un enfant sans histoire alternates between two life histories whose very disparity conveys a powerful message. As well as painting a picture – a chilling one, because it is clearsighted and pulls no punches – of the current state of autism treatment in France (supposedly a government priority since 2012), Tran Huy serves up a narrative that is much more than a first-person account. It is a book whose dignity and resolve win the reader over to the author’s cause, and it is the universality of this personal battle that lodges the issue firmly in our consciences.

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