With the Light: Raising An Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe
Published by Yen Press/Orbit, October 2007
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
OK: Manga. What images does that word create?
Images of biologically impossible physical feats, computer super-brains, cybernetically or anatomically enhanced young people (usually female), mega-weapons and all-out Armageddon spring to mind?
However, those who know a little about the topic (which I admit, I am not one) will tell you that in Japan there are as many types of manga as there are genres in fiction. Not all manga is like the suggestions given above, though outside Japan, to be fair, such a broad range is less common.
Sales outside Japan though are on the rise. I understand that the TokyoPop imprint has been very successful, for one, not to mention the Ghost in the Shell and the Akira series for another.
Here though, from a new imprint, we have a very different novel in a graphic format.
With the Light (published as Hikari to Tomoni in Japan) tells the contemporary story of a young mother, Sachiko Azuma, whose first child is born as the sun is rising. For that reason he is named Hikaru (meaning ‘to be bright’ or ‘light’ in Japanese.) All is initially well, though there are soon signs that Hikaru is not the same as other children – seemingly quiet and inward-looking, disengaged from events around him, becoming upset at things that do not normally upset young children and not upset at the things that do.
At about one and a half years old, Hikaru is tested for deafness, though eventually it is realised that he is not deaf but autistic. The majority of this book is about how Sachiko and her husband deal with this issue, helping Hikaru cope and showing the consequences of the Azuma family learning to survive and adjust to a new situation as Hikaru goes through his early years.
There are no robots, no spaceships, no mega-battles here. Instead there is a gentle, sometimes humorous, often sad, story of human emotions and relationships. I realise that this is not the usual item for an SFF site to review, but it is stunning. The story is sympathetic to the situation and though in places it can be a little mawkish for some, it examines many aspects of the real world through the comic medium, as does the best comic book or novel.
It is also a major tome: 528 pages of graphic novel, produced by Yen Press in the Japanese reading format (back page to front page, right to left on the page) yet with a scrupulous translation from the Japanese into an engaging and readable English version. Once I got used to the format I read it very quickly. I read it in two major sittings.
This book surprised me a great deal on a number of levels, as I might expect it will others. It has depth and detail, light and shade, humour and pathos. Putting my cards on the table, as the father of a boy diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, it was at times an uncomfortable read, though the events examined were pretty realistic and clearly relatable to from my experience. In a wider less personal context, it examines the issues that many parents have had to face in an increasingly common situation, as well as the actions and attitudes of those around the family involved. With such a common bond, ultimately, whilst not a self-help guide, this book made me aware that dealing with autistic children is an experience that crosses international boundaries.
In summary then, an impressive and very moving read, and one therefore that may be worthy of your attention. For those manga fans looking for something a little different, or perhaps wanting to show that manga is not always what the outsider’s perceptions imagine it to be, the book makes an interesting counterpoint to those who read and enjoyed Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark (another book written based on autistic experiences.) This is an unusual book from a new publisher of manga. Though the rest of its proposed publishing may be more traditional, this is an interesting start. Recommended.
Mark Yon / Hobbit, October 2007
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