Monday, 2 March 2009

From Zaftig to Aspie by DJ Kirkby

You cannot choose the moments in life which will become perfectly preserved in memory. They are accidents of mood and sensation. Each is a miraculous survival, a tiny treasure. From Zaftig to Aspie has many such moments. It is like opening a jewellery box and seeing the contents sparkle as they catch the light. The author has captured her childhood in Canada with a vivid freshness, giving it an immediacy which suggests that she has not forgotten how it feels to be young.

DJ Kirkby’s earliest memories read like scenes from a road movie, and her nomadic, unconventional home life might have today’s child welfare authorities blenching. There are shadows of poverty, of an unsettled family structure, cruelty from classmates and of sexual abuse, but all these are outweighed by the love of her free-spirited, hippie mother and the easy-going kindness of a loose circle of friends and relations. What emerges is a picture of a little girl who was different. Who preferred pickles to sweets. Who was trusting of animals and people, and unfazed by the weaknesses of human nature. For whom rock music and the scent of marijuana was more normal than playschool. A little girl who found riches in the woods and sea shore, and who grew into a creative, uninhibited, well-balanced woman. The author’s undiagnosed Asperger syndrome contributed to the trials of growing up, but also to her unique and colour-filled view of the world.

The anecdotal nature of the writing is complimented by the episodic structure of the book. No chapter is longer than ten pages; most are only two or three - but this in no way interrupts the flow of the narrative. D J Kirkby’s style is flowing and unfussy, and I was captivated from the outset. Sometimes the originality and aptness of a turn of phrase or choice of adjective stopped me in my tracks; this is practised writing, but it is not slick or formulaic. Her recollections are brought to life by their detail and precision – no dry account this, but a pointillist picture, a pietra dura mosaic in which shards of colour create a picture that is greater than the sum of its parts. Throughout, modesty and humour give the book an uplifting lightness. As D J Kirkby invites us, ‘Welcome to the story of my blunders.’

It is difficult to escape the feeling that all of us share some of the drives and constraints common to autism, and that diagnosis is a matter of degree. This is not to underestimate the difficulties that those on the autistic spectrum face, but it explains why we can relate to the author’s experience. This is not a book about autism; it is a book about childhood and adolescence in a richly unusual world in which, as we later discover, autism is both a hurdle and a gift.

Read it.


  1. I finally completed my Uni reading list today and am at last free to read whatever I like once more... I may nip out to the bookshop tomorrow and look this up...

  2. Sounds like my sort of thing, I'll see if I can get it.

    Party and locale sound terrific, great description I was there with you.

  3. Ok. Sounds interesting. Will read! Is it on to find out

  4. Is on Amazon! Have ordered. Gotta love 'one click'!

  5. Yes, it does sound interesting. But I am on a quest to only buy secondhand books from bookshops at the moment. Not sure why - just one of my little things of the moment.

    But it does sound my kind of thing. I have often thought that I have some autistic traits and certainly I can see that my grandfather who was regarded as "eccentric" might have been considered autistic today. Well, maybe.

  6. Thank you so much for this wonderful review.
    I wanted to say to Reluctant Blogger (and everyone else) that I am all for recycling and sharing books, it seems a shocking waste of trees for a book to only be read by one person per copy. There is an excellent site for this kind of thing which some of you may be interested in here:

  7. Mr Dotterel - Thanks; you set the bar!

    Steve - Well done! That must be a good feeling. You'ff have to remember not to make notes on whatever you pick up next.

    Lulu - You'd have loved it.

    Justme - Gosh. I hope you like it.

    RB - I agree about secondhand books, although it does seem hard on the authors. I can happily reread most books too.

    DJ - It was a pleasure. I've heard of Book Crossing; it sounds rather fun, so I'll explore it.

  8. I've got it here - I just haven't begun reading it yet (sorry Denyse). Anyway that was a fantastically written review - you missed your calling.

  9. FF - That's what they told me at work too...or words to that effect!

  10. After your tremendous build up of this book, I shall indeed be having a wee swatch at it myself.

  11. A jewel of a review!
    (Wish you'd read MY book . . . .)
    What? Oh nothing!

    "You cannot choose the moments in life which will become perfectly preserved in memory. They are accidents of mood and sensation. Each is a miraculous survival, a tiny treasure."

    Super, job, Brother T. Aloha

  12. oh, it's called "Aloha Where You Like Go?" and it is on amazon.

    Hope this wasn't rude to do, dear Brother T.

    In my defense I will only say that I am an American and always wondered if I might not be a bit aspergers-y as well.

  13. what a great review, sugar! i'm off to amazon, too! xoxo
    thank you and thank you to dj kirby, too! xoxox

    (i've added you to my blogroll.)

  14. Jimmy - I'd make a terrible salesman ("Well, I like it Sir, but don't buy it on my recommendation because everyone's different and anyway, what do I know, and besides...") But I think you'll like it.

    Cloudia - I've always intended to - just never got down to it. I've ordered it now, and am looking forward to it. (Maybe I can persuade you to send me a signed sticky label to stick in it one day?!!) American and aspergers-y? Now there's a double whammy!!

    Savannah - I'm extraordinarily flattered. Are you sure you haven't mistaken me for another Brother Tobias?

  15. is there another, sugar? besides, we seem to have many friends in common! ;) xox

  16. Zaftig is one of my favorite words. So sweet & playful sounding so unlike: YOU ARE FAT for instance.....

    I'm looking for a new book to read anyway, so..~Mary

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  18. FrankandMary - Welcome Maam. I've just glanced at yours and am going back for more. I may be some time. I don't know how you cope with so many readers; you are either a dedicated and selfless saint or deranged!

  19. How did you know about this book?

    Read It: That BT, sounds like an order which one finds impossible to resist!

  20. Book crossing? I shall investigate. Sounds like it might be might be my sort of thing.