Book Review: Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius

Ghost Boy: The Story of My Locked-in Life Martin Pistorius- Ghost Boy

 Format- Paperback

 Source- Review copy/ Simon & Schuster

 Synopsis: In January 1988, aged twelve, Martin Pistorius fell inexplicably sick. First he lost his voice and stopped eating; then he slept constantly and shunned human contact. Doctors were mystified. Within eighteen months he was mute and wheelchair-bound. Martin’s parents were told that an unknown degenerative disease had left him with the mind of a baby and he probably had less than two years to live. Martin went on to be cared for at centres for severely disabled children, a shell of the bright, vivacious boy he had once been. What no-one knew is that while Martin’s body remained unresponsive his mind slowly woke up, yet he could tell no-one; he was a prisoner inside a broken body. Then, in 1998, when Martin was twenty-three years old, an aromatherapy masseuse began treating him and sensed some part of him was alert. Experts were dismissive, but his parents persevered and soon realised their son was as intelligent as he’d always been. With no memory of the time before his illness, Martin was a man-child reborn in a world he didn’t know. He was still in a wheelchair and unable to speak, but he was brilliantly adept at computer technology.  Since then, and against all odds, he has fallen in love, married and set up a design business which he runs from his home in Essex. Ghost Boy is an incredible, deeply moving story of recovery and the power of love. Through Martin’s story we can know what it is like to be here and yet not here – unable to communicate yet feeling and understanding everything. Martin’s emergence from his darkness enables us to celebrate the human spirit and is a wake-up call to cherish our own lives.

Review: As a psychologist I am often drawn to stories of loss, grief and trauma just to further torture myself of hearing more sad stories of human survival. But what is always encouraging about a memoir is the inspiration and determination of the human spirit that shines through and makes it all worthwhile. Ghost Boy is one of those stories.

Martin Pistorius was born in South Africaand lived a relatively normal life with his parents and siblings up until the age of 12 when he contracted a degenerative illness. It left him completely immobile and insentient. Everyone believed Martin to be lifeless and in some ways he was. But after two years, Martin began to wake up, he regained consciousness. Over the next two years Martin became alert and intellectually functioning. He was receptive to his senses, but his body was still useless. Many years passed before Martin’s intelligence was questioned and as a reader I was privy to Martin’s internal dialogue and his experience of the world going on around him. He was just an object that people prodded, fed and wheeled off to a disability care centre to be baby-sat. Until an aromatherapist took an interest in Martin and made it her business to challenge everyone’s views about Martin’s intelligence. She believed he understood her, she could see it in his eyes, only he had no way of communicating this to her. This was Martin’s first experience of hope. For the first time in his life since the illness he was being looked at like a human,  someone felt empathy for him.

This was the beginning of Martin’s independence as he learnt to use computer technology to communicate to people around him, and he became a part of human interactions and communication again. It was also the first time he fell in love and had his heart broken.

Ghost Boy was a well-written story with simple language and reflective components that represent Martin’s inner world. I liked that it was not written in chronological order but still had a smooth flow. I empathised with Martin’s frustration, helplessness and despair. I also felt for him when his fears got in the way of making progress with everyday anxieties of fear of failure and rejection.

This is an interesting memoir about a young boy who rejoins the world and how a few special people dedicated themselves to helping him communicate and attain some independence for a better quality of life.

3.5/5 rating

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