Review: Somewhere Over the Sea by Halfdan Freihow
Title: Somewhere Over the Sea: A Father’s Letter to his Autistic Son
Author: Freihow, Halfdan W.
Translator: Ferguson, Robert
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Publisher / Year: House of Anansi Press / 2012 (originally published in 2006 in Norway)
Source: From Trish at Anansi for review.
Why I Read It: Trish always knows what I will like.
Date Read: 13/03/12
Have you ever wanted to know what it might be to live with autism? Freihow in this book has written about life with an autistic son and has structured it as a love letter to this son. Wanting to write about their lives and about autism, he wanted to also ensure that he was honest about himself as well as about their life, and also to write it in a way that his son would appreciate and wouldn’t find upsetting to read later on in life. With such difficult conditions in which to structure the book, I think that Freihow still managed to write in such a way as to be fully real and yet sensitive to all involved.
The book is written when Gabriel, Freihow’s son, is still fairly young. The author through the book talks about his feelings and concerns for his son, and about their life to that point. He talks about certain events that have happened and that have shaped him, his family, and his community. While the book (or letter) is addressed to Gabriel, the rest of the family figures prominently as well, and we get a vivid picture of their life.
One really interesting part was his continuing discussion on language, the rules of language, and how important they can be to some people. The struggles with language for Gabriel and with always choosing the perfect word was interesting because our language is so complex and so many of our expressions really don’t make sense. It can be difficult to speak honestly and perfectly clearly all the time, and imagine if you always had to in order to be understood?
Although I’m not always a fan of memoirs, this was one that although it covers the minor day-to-day lived experiences of a family, also covers so much. The writing is honest and true, and Freihow both explains autism to those of us without a personal connection to it while also telling a story. Autism is presented as something that just exists, that presents challenges and complexities to the life of a whole family and community, but also as exceedingly normal and that is simply part of who someone is.
Definitely a great and moving read for anyone interested in memoirs, in living with varying levels of ability, in the bonds that connect us, or in learning more about autism. The edition I read is a re-release of the previous Anansi version which was titled Dear Gabriel.