Readersforum's Blog

March 4, 2013

Cloud Atlas author translates autistic teenager’s memoir

David Mitchell, whose own son is autistic, translated Naoki Higashida’s ‘revelatory’ book with his wife

By Alison Flood

Painstakingly picked out on a cardboard alphabet grid by its severely autistic author, the acclaimed Japanese memoir The Reason I Jump, which provides a “revelatory” window onto life as an autistic teenager, is being translated into English by the award-winning author of Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell.

Mitchell’s wife Keiko Yoshida spotted the 2006 memoir online. In the book the teenage author Naoki Higashida answers questions such as why he doesn’t make eye contact when talking, why he can’t have a proper conversation and how much he hates being talked down to. Yoshida thought it might be helpful, as the couple’s own son is also autistic. Initially translating it just for their son’s carers and for friends, Mitchell and Yoshida soon began to realise that the memoir might help a much wider audience.

“I could see how helpful it was for her in terms of understanding the autism in our own domestic situation,” said Mitchell. “She did the heavy lifting from the Japanese into English, and in a sense I provided the stylistic icing on the cake. But I also needed to respect the fact that it was a 13-year-old boy writing, not a 44-year-old novelist, so it couldn’t sound as if it was written for the New Yorker.”


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