This is a remarkable book, at once hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking, written with the glum humour only Brits can carry off ... Lester drew on his and his wife’s experience with their autistic child in creating this entirely plausible yet surreal portrait. Highly recommended for families affected by spectrum disorders and anyone interested in an entertaining novel about a decidedly unentertaining situation.
Shtum, the Yiddish word for keeping silent or hiding secrets, is the perfect title for a novel in which even those who can speak do not share their thoughts with each other ... Lester doesn’t spare his main character: Ben isn’t an idealised hero battling for his disabled son’s rights. His failings are laid out in plain sight. He is a man-boy who has never quite grown up...This is the literary territory of Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby, infused with the Jewish humour of Howard Jacobson and Shalom Auslander ... At times Lester’s ambitious cinematic crosscutting between showdowns with officialdom and stories from the past puts a strain on the narrative flow. Overall, though, this is an impressive novel that gives a very accurate portrayal of the struggles some families of autistic children endure, while taking the reader on an exhilarating roller coaster ride between pathos, comedy and anger.
...a moving, darkly funny novel ... The portrait of the father, a cantankerous yet loving Hungarian Jewish refugee from World War II, is one of the surprise pleasures of the book. And the midsection of the novel, which describes the way the sham divorce slowly becomes a real divorce while the grandfather and Jonah bond without words, is deeply affecting ... Overall, however, Shtum is a bit of a mixed bag. The author elects to tell the story in first person present tense, a choice that adds a choppy, staccato feel to things and also underlines some of the narrative discontinuities that creep into the text along the way. The dialogue can occasionally feel a bit canned, as if lifted from a lesser sitcom, and the author overplays the scenes of his narrator as a feckless, self-loathing alcoholic ... What “Shtum” does do well, and memorably, is describe the ferocity of attachment a parent feels toward a disabled child.