Autistic Protagonists and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I had the great pleasure of reading The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion (published 2013), this past Saturday, and I absolutely loved it!

9781476729084_custom-c00c1c6226f0b73f83d2c1738f4ac7b1334b6ee9-s2-c85[1]This novel features a main character/first-person protagonist who is on the autism spectrum. The voice of the narrator, Professor Don Tillman, is so humorous and sweet and true, that this love story gave me that beautiful experience of being immersed in a world, and I fell in love with everyone in this book, especially Don and Rosie.

Especially Don. How I loved this main character.

*hearts hearts hearts*

The Rosie Project is a modern-day love story set in Australia, though part of the action takes place in New York City, which Don and Rosie visit together later in the book. The plot of the novel is quirky, genuine, and altogether lovely.

For anyone who read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon (2003)– and fell in love with the voice of that narrator, the autistic 15-year-old Christopher Boone, then say YES to The Rosie Project, because this book also has a distinctive voice, and is beautifully written. It doesn’t treat autism like it’s some kind of disease, but something that can be embraced as a strength, which is fantastic. There are a lot of people craving books like this, and I hope they find The Rosie Project.

Of course, it is easy to love Don– he is written to be very loveable– and I love that he is loveable. I love this whole book. I want more books like this. I say YES PLEASE to a whole library of adult fiction that is so easy and fun to read as The Rosie Project.

Toward the end of the novel, the reader learns that Rosie thinks Don looks like Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Here is a picture of said hottie, in all his Atticus Finch gloriousness:

Gregory Peck







However, this was not how I pictured Don Tillman.

Because of the precise way that Don speaks, and because of the way his voice sounded in my head (“Corrrect”) I pictured him as a man with a beautiful, precise way of speaking.

Which means I pictured him as Benedict Cumberbatch.










Because yes please to Benedict Cumberbatch. That voice. omg. That voice. Plus, the man Can Act.

And act and act and ACT.

Wow, is he amazing on screen. And have I mentioned his voice? Here is a short interview with him, comparing his face to that of an otter (which he views as a blessing, that he is blessed to have “a weird face”).

He is self-deprecating and lovely, and I don’t think he looks like a cross between “an otter and something people find vaguely attractive.” Certainly not. He is way too gorgeous for that kind of talk. Though it’s cute he describes himself like that. Cute cute cute.

No, I haven’t seen Sherlock yet. But I did see him in 12 Years a Slave (which I loved) and in Star Trek Into Darkness (which I thought was a lame rip-off of Wrath of Khan, and did not love) and I still want to see The Fifth Estate (which received a lackluster NYT film review) and maybe hear him as the dragon in The Desolation of Smaug. Maybe. I didn’t see the first Hobbit film though, and have no desire to. I’m anxious about having to sit through movies that drag. Though most people said the second Hobbit film was a lot better than the first.

Having finished The Rosie Project, I am now reading Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (published 2007), which is the most horrifying, pain-inducing memoir I have ever read in my life.






I have owned this book since it was published (my copy is 7 years old now)– and maybe I delayed reading it so long because I just knew how painful and horrifying this book would be to read. A long, long nightmare through hell. Only it’s not an imagined hell, or any hell ever described in a religious text, but hell on earth, and the woman suffering through that hell penned the book.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was beaten a lot growing up.

A lot.

Tied down. Tied with her wrists and ankles together. And beaten for hours on end. By her mother and grandmother. And once, by a Muslim religious teacher, who smashed her head against the wall and broke her skull, which almost killed her.

I have read the passage describing her female genital mutilation (at age five) three times now– a procedure that was performed with a pair of old scissors, and no anesthesia, and involves cutting out the clitoris and inner labia, and then sewing the outer labia closed. That way, a girl cannot have sex, and her husband has to rip her labia open with his penis (or cut her open with a knife) the first time she has sex, so there is no doubt about her virginity.

I keep hoping the horror of this atrocity will diminish if I read the passage again, so it won’t show up in my nightmares– but so far, this strategy is not working. I am horrified and sickened anew, to an equal extent, each time I read those paragraphs.

I also went online and typed “female genital mutilation” into Google, just to see what images came up, and found pictures of a roomful of 3- and 4-year-old girls who had all just had their clitoris and inner labia cut out (with old scissors or rusty razors or glass shards or rusty knives), which means the girls are lying in the dirt with their legs spread open, blood everywhere.

I am in intense pain when I think about female genital mutilation– a pain that registers in my arms, shoulders, neck and head. There is nothing– nothing— more fucked up on the planet right now than FGM. Climate change, overpopulation, Fukushima, nuclear waste, civil war in Syria and Central African Republic– all of that is fucked up. But the number of women and girls who suffer cruelty, brutality, humiliation, and torture in the name of religion and cultural heritage– that is the most fucked up of all.

Sometimes I want SO much to be able to live in one of these places for a year, or two years, and start a writing program for a community that doesn’t yet have one. I know I could learn a new language to the extent that I could make this happen. Other people have done this, and I would like to do this, too– because journaling, writing, and sharing stories– sharing stories about the “shameful” garbage that people “are not supposed to talk about” (because, God forbid, you might “upset someone” with the truth)– that’s where healing takes place. I love Doctors without Borders. I’m so thankful that organization, and many others like it– exists.

But the world needs Writers without Borders, too. People who help make a safe space for local community members to speak up. For themselves, for their children, for their grandchildren.

Yes, I know I am white, and NO– this is not some kind of Great White Hope thing I’m talking about. This is not me thinking, “Wow, I could use some self-esteem, because I’m so white and privileged, why don’t I go to Africa and save the ignorant people who live there. Because I am the Only One who can save them. Because I am White and therefore Smarter and Have All the Answers.”

No, I certainly don’t have all the answers. They do though. And building a writing center, and bringing people together, introducing a new form of community sharing, a place where all are welcome and shaming the shit out of people gets checked at the door

I’d really like to go to a place and say, hey, let’s try this.

Let’s build a room where people can meet in a place of openness and acceptance. Kind of like how I imagine church should be. Or a mosque, or a temple, or any other holy space. Except people are sharing their stories, rather than hearing a sermon. They might even organize a journal or newsletter to publish. They might build a library right next to the gathering space. They might have computers in the library, and free internet access.

They might share stories and heal.

Maybe, if we can help extract the pain of FGM from the women who’ve already suffered from it, and help them understand it’s okay to let go of that pain and not inflict it upon their daughters–

well, that is called excising a tumor. And FGM is definitely one fucking mother of all tumors.

So I’ll keep this hope alive, that I might have the opportunity to do this one day. I still want my little writer-in-residence cottage in my backyard. But I would really like to do this, too.

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1 Response to Autistic Protagonists and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

  1. Adriana says:

    Just reading your post on Infidel made me feel woozy. I don’t think I could handle the book without serious nightmares.


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