There are few books that command attention and reflection as this one does. Martin Pistorius fell victim to an infection of the brain (to my knowledge, never concretely diagnosed) at the age of 12 and was left in a virtual coma. Everyone thought he was a shell of his former self, but around the age of 16 a miracle began to occur. His consciousness began coming back. By the age of about nineteen, he was fully conscious, intelligent, and aware of his surroundings…but no one knew. He suffered through years of being unable to tell anyone that he was fully aware of what was going on around him.
A self-described Ghost Boy, he struggled to find a way to let someone know that he was inside the body which had become his prison. It wasn’t until years later that one of his caregivers began to suspect that he was in there somewhere and sent him for assessments. At that point, his life truly began. From the first moment of focusing his eyes on a ball on a computer screen, Martin takes his reader through a journey of recovery, hope, and forgiveness that absolutely astounds me. This book left me in profound introspection in so many areas: how do we treat the people that we think are not aware of our interactions with them? How can we be more mindful and appreciate every moment, every achievement as he had to? Could we forgive people for their transgressions, intentional or not, as he has?
Usually a reader who flies through books, discards them, and moves on, I am only now finishing the audiobook and I know I will buy a physical copy to reread. This book is, in turns, beautifully philosophical and stunningly realistic. The reader is astonished, angered, brought to tears, filled with happiness…in short, he is remarkably talented at making his reader experience important moments with him. He is a thoughtful and creative writer who can bring a simple moment to absolute clarity with a vivid word picture that captures full attention.
There are so many poignant moments in this story that it is difficult to choose some representative samples. Moments that will stay with me forever include the moment his mother turned to him after another argument with his father and implored him to die, the day he convinced everyone that he was indeed aware and alive, and the day he made breakfast for his future wife, finally finding someone who was willing to let him be his independent self and make mistakes.
Not normally a reader of romantic literature, I was drawn to his account of falling in love with Joanna. If the term “soulmate” applies to any couple, it would be these two individuals. I am convinced that the person we are meant to be with makes us the best version of ourselves and Martin Pistorious captures this in the most magnificent way. The reader grows with him throughout the book in his search for life, love, and independence. Although none of us can truly understand what it is like to be in his shoes, he gives us the best version he can in this book.
The structure of this text can be challenging for some, in that it has a scattered temporal setting and the chapters are organized more around theme than chronological order. However, he captures such a sense of place and time that I suspect it wouldn’t be much of an issue. In fact, it adds something to the story when the reader is again and again drawn back into his “ghost boy” world. I find that sometimes the further a person comes from their beginnings, the more we forget about where they came from. Martin never lets his reader forget where he has been and where he is headed.
For so many reasons, I think this book should be read by anyone and everyone. If there was ever an ultimate story of perseverance and the strength of human faith and spirit, it is contained with in the pages of this book. Although the accounts of abuse he suffered at the hands of his “caregivers” can be difficult to digest at times, I think it is so important that we remind ourselves that a human being is a human being, no matter their outward appearance or our judgement of their capabilities. I was especially affected at hearing his thoughts about people talking “around” him, but not “to” him and his astonishment when the caregiver who eventually became his saviour did the former and not the latter. I am enthralled by his parents. How they must have suffered during his “absence” and I wonder, in their shoes, if I would have coped as well as they did. I have learned so much from reading this book and I hope that many of you choose to pick it up as well. I know I will, again and again.
For more information on Martin Pistorius and his story, you can view his TED Talk.