Friday, 13 February 2009

Born on a Blue Day (Daniel Tammet)

--The blurb--
"In this, his first book, Daniel writes about his life from severe epileptic seizures in early childhood to his growing awareness of being somehow different, frequently absorbed in his own world, often confused and frightened by the world of people. From an early age, Daniel remembers numbers as his ‘friends’ each with its own shape and personality. He describes how he sees the world around him through his unique numerical prism, counting to himself whenever he feels anxious or afraid. He recounts his schooldays, learning skills most people are able to take for granted such as maintaining eye contact and knowing when to laugh at a joke. There are also chapters on falling in love, his remarkable language abilities (he speaks nine languages including Icelandic, which he learnt in a week) and his meeting with fellow savant and the inspiration behind the ‘Rain Man’ movie, Kim Peek."

--The review--
The arrival of my highly belated order from Amazon last week, bought in December with a voucher given to me for Christmas(!), meant that my reading of Seth's The Golden Gate was soon put paid to when Born on a Blue Day made it into my hands. As a linguist, I had long been intrigued by this autistic savant who, alongside his dexterity with numbers, is also able to easily absorb languages that were previously unknown to him while still developing and maintaining passion for these things and balance in other areas of his life. Some might consider a gay man who has autism and once suffered with epilepsy as someone who got a bit of a raw deal in life; however, this sensitively-written and lucid memoir should serve to quickly dissipate any false preconceptions. The author is clearly at peace with himself, his life, and his abilities, and despite his display of superhuman abilities, appears modest and 'human' (this modesty and honesty together with his articulate writing style makes him an endearing narrator).

The autobiography's layout is almost strictly chronological, which is soothing and clear rather than boring, and the feats of memory when it comes to Tammet's early childhood in particular are arguably the book's greatest strength. He perhaps labours the mathematical points for a little too long for those of us who are not mathematicians, but this only enables further insight into his general world view. The only other minor 'blip' in this opus is the occasional grammatical errors, mostly punctuation-related, that litter various pages, which I suspect to be the fault of an over-zealous copy editor rather than the fault of the clearly meticulous Tammet.

It is also psychologically and scientifically interesting, providing a valuable insight into child development, and Tammet admits freely that he doesn't mind being used as a guinea pig by scientists in order to discover more about the human brain. Despite the mathematical, scientific, linguistic and psychological content, however, Born on a Blue Day is still accessible; it is easy to read and this, combined with the book's various compelling qualities, mean it can be whizzed through by fast readers in a night. The book ends on a high note and a sense of accomplishment slowly becomes prevalent, while still being devoid of arrogance. This is an inspiring read while being free of the slush and soppiness that seems to plague many allegedly 'inspiring' stories, and contrary to the notion that this is a man potentially disadvantaged by autism, epilepsy and his sexual orientation, the impression is left of a man who really does have it all after all.

Other works by Daniel Tammet
Embracing The Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind (2009)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ooo this sounds good! will be borrowing it from you, I have decided.

- Gem