I really did not want to abandon a 2017 Kia Niro in the Nevada desert.
It was a perfectly decent car, hardly deserving of such disrespect. But there I was, confused, exhausted, emotionally broken and vowing never to go back to Las Vegas again.
We have undervalued the library all this time, I think, in part because we have overvalued the written word. Since our Judeo-Christian roots, we have ascribed mythic power to books. God Himself, it is said, is the Torah. And though popular culture has lost some of this mystical veneer since the Enlightenment, the fetishization of books has not abated: In the modern scientific tradition, we have come to consider knowledge to be only that which is communicable via text. But that is a terribly impoverished view of what human knowing can be.
What “Shtum” does do well, and memorably, is describe the ferocity of attachment a parent feels toward a disabled child. It unsentimentally lays out the terrain such a parent must negotiate both at home and institutionally, and paints a vivid portrait of a family under siege by this most mysterious of contemporary maladies. To its credit, “Shtum” proposes humor as a balm in even the darkest of situations. If paying detailed attention to one’s characters is a form of love, it is also a powerful, and even remarkable, love letter to a child.
My parents had an arranged marriage. Father fell fervently in love with Mother at first sight. But his love was never reciprocated.
Growing up, Mother lavished most of her love on my elder brother and treated him like the man in her life. It was partly due to gender preference, but more because of her discontent with Father. It was her way of telling him that he could never be as close to her as their son. Elder Sister tried to avoid the chaos of our family by staying away whenever she could. Younger Sister was the youngest and loveliest, so she could get away with anything.
As for me, I was a shadow in front of Mother. It was as if she had to direct her antagonism—her disastrous relationship with my father, her stress at work and of raising a relatively big family—against someone. And that one had to be me. Being a dark-skinned, super sensitive and most Father-like daughter, I became her target.