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Book Review: Strange Son

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


Book Review: Strange Son
Book cover image courtesy of Riverhead Books

The Bottom Line

By Portia Iversen; 397 pages. Subtitle: Two Mothers, Two Sons and the Quest to Unlock the Hidden World of Autism

Iversen is a former Hollywood art director whose life was transformed twice -- when her son Dov was diagnosed with autism, and when she met Soma Mukhopadhyay and saw the amazing work Soma was doing in getting her own autistic son to communicate. The mission of these two mothers to get scientific recognition for Soma's procedures, and save their own sons -- and so many other sons and daughters -- makes this book read like a good suspense novel.

About the Guide Rating

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  • Takes the autism memoir to a new level, with a focus beyond one family
  • Brings attention to an amazing procedure for getting autistic kids to communicate
  • Reads like a mystery story, with all the excitement that entails
  • Prose is entertaining and fast-moving, even when delving into scientific research
  • Iverson never seems too full of herself, despite some pretty impressive feats


  • Those feats can seem somewhat unlikely -- one mom forges where researchers failed?
  • Ending is fairly anticlimactic
  • Author's wealthy lifestyle may not translate to your personal experience
  • If you're of the opinion that autism is not something to be "cured," this book will annoy
  • Focuses more on research and possibilities than concrete practical advice


  • Chapter 1: Departure of the Mind
    Chapter 2: Listening to Sand
  • Chapter 3: The Indian Poet
    Chapter 4: Acting As If
  • Chapter 5: Loops Around Our House
    Chapter 6: Sipping Tea
  • Chapter 7: A Disastrous Dinner
    Chapter 8: Chaos of the Mind
  • Chapter 9: Four Minus One
    Chapter 10: I See or I Hear
  • Chapter 11: Something's Burning
    Chapter 12: Echoes of Doubt
  • Chapter 13: Dreaming in Sound
    Chapter 14: A Galaxy Is a Group of Stars
  • Chapter 15: Handsome in a Jacket
    Chapter 16: Beneath the Silence
  • Chapter 17: How Many Others?
    Chapter 18: Cogwheels

Guide Review - Book Review: Strange Son

I didn't expect to like this book. I thought the focus on "curing" an autistic child would be oppressive, and more a factor of the parents' need for a "perfect" child than an appreciation of who that child really was. The preface, in which the author imagines unseen creatures lurking in her home to steal her child's mind, put me even more on my guard. But slowly, surely, even suspensefully, this tale of a mother's fight for her child won me over. Maybe it's because the fight went beyond her own particular family into research to benefit many families, and into the strange relationship of one other family in particular.

Strange Son starts in familiar territory for an autism memoir, with the anxiety and grief surrounding a diagnosis, and a resolve to rescue a lost boy. But Iversen and her husband are nothing if not pro-active; they don't just shop around for specialists, they start a whole foundation, Cure Autism Now (CAN), to stimulate research into the causes and cures of autism. Then Iversen hears of an autistic boy in India who writes poetry and communicates through his mother. With a determination that most special-needs moms reserve for strong-arming special-education departments, she gets Soma and Tito to the U.S., forces researchers to take them seriously, and has Soma apply the techniques, successfully, to her son Dov and many others.

It's an exciting story, full of mystery and risk, but through it all, there's one fact that nags: Last I checked, autism's not cured yet. The book's pay-off is pretty small for the number of pages and the enormity attributed to Soma's method. Perhaps the presence of this book will in some way rewrite that ending. I'm in for a sequel, anyway.

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