cover image Dear Gabriel

Dear Gabriel

Halfdan W. Freihow, , trans. from the Norwegian by Robert Ferguson. . MacAdam/Cage, $18 (220pp) ISBN 978-1596922495

The austere, windswept landscape of a Norwegian island provides the backdrop for this poetic memoir—nominated for the Brage Prize in its author's native Norway—chronicling the love between a father and his autistic son. Journalist Freihow, in his first book, writes movingly of his family's day-to-day experiences working to help Gabriel overcome his social and intellectual challenges, giving readers a vivid, detailed glimpse into the condition and its effects. For example, Gabriel has a large vocabulary and is an avid reader, but has difficulty understanding ambiguity or metaphor; to the literal-minded boy, it seems an ignorant misuse of language. Over time, Freihow learns to interpret his son's distress over figures of speech, and Gabriel comes to understand and accept other people's imprecision; throughout, Freihow's meditations (directed, in the second person, at his son) capture how love and acceptance can trump language when it misleads and mistreats. Freihow's honest description of their relationship, carefully balancing frustration, apprehension and at times terrifying insecurity (“A moment later I'm there, sitting with you and holding you tight against my chest, not knowing what to say or do”) with joy and triumph, will prove particularly valuable for families touched by autism, but anyone interested in an intimate, finely crafted family memoir will find this hard to put down. (Aug.)