Thursday, 7 January 2016

Shtum - A TBC Review

First read of 2016, I think it will be hard to top this one.

Shtum by Jem Lester



One of the best reads I have encountered in years! I was very excited to be given a free copy of this amazing book and to read an advance. I started reading Shtum late on Monday night, as I kept turning the pages, got more drawn into the story of Ben, Emma, Jonah and George, I found myself almost unable to stop. Ben and Emma's 10 year old son is profoundly autistic. In a bid to secure a suitable residential school place for Jonah, Ben and Emma separate. This leaves Ben and Jonah in a position that finds them both moving in with Ben's elderly father, George. 
As a mother of two autistic sons, I related right from the first few pages with the struggle Ben and Emma were facing. Having battled the local education authority twice myself, I could understand the desperation, the exhaustion and the turmoil this alone brings to a family. At times I found myself wanting to strangle the main characters, Ben evolved from a doting, loving father to a self pitying, heavily drinking and irritating person and I felt some sympathy for Emma. However, as the relationship between George, Jonah and Ben develops and little glimpses into Ben's past as well as George's emerge, my outlook on Ben changed again.
If all of this was not enough to take us readers on to an emotional rollercoaster ride, we then discover that this book is like a kinderegg.. you are treated to a story within the story. 
As a German national, whose grandfather was executed as a sympathizer to Jews,  George's own story had me gripped.
Jem Lester has written a book unlike any other I have ever read (I know bookreads says i read 246 but believe me, I have read more than that). It touches on two topics close to my heart: autism and the plight of the jewish population during the second world war. The story is well written, the twists and turns, the ups and downs, the pace at which new background information is revealed, all make for a gripping book. You will not be able to tear yourself away, you will want to know "what happens next" and "what happened THEN". 
The life lessons Ben and Emma are taught will stay with you, the reader, too. I don't think I will forget this book in a very long time.