About Us

Contact Us


2001 Archives

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
World Travel
September Issue
October Issue
November Issue
December Issue
Feb 02 Issue
April 02 Issue
May 02 Issue
June02 Issue
July02 Issue
August 02 Issue
September 02
October 02
November 02


A Novel of Fatherhood
by Giuseppe Pontiggia
Review Charlie Dickinson
English translation by Oonagh Stransky
Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, 192 pp., ISBN: 0-375-41310-3

Giuseppe Pontiggia's first novel translated into English is a confessional memoir by the father of a developmentally-disabled son. Told thirty years after son Paolo's birth, BORN TWICE recounts with absorbing precision how the father changed, coped, and celebrated his son's "birth in life." As a doctor wisely advised the parents of three-month old Paolo: "These children are born twice. They have to learn to get by in a world that their first birth made difficult for them. Their second birth depends on you, on what you can give them...."

Somewhat slim at 192 pages, the often short chapters (38 in total) make for an episodic and chronologically jumpy account of what actually happens to the son. That is, BORN TWICE is less about the son's life and more about the psychological history of one father who realized a richer fatherhood than he might have expected.

Articulate and intelligent, Professor Frigerio wins us over with compelling honesty about numerous internal conflicts and external clashes he fought to be a good father. He shares guilt with us: Did having an affair while his wife was pregnant cause her to have labor complications? He tells of bargaining with the Almighty for Paolo's partial recovery from his disability. He tells of medical arrogance in the name of supposed authority.

A leisurely read fashioned with exquisite control of language, BORN TWICE gives meditations upon seemingly every issue that might attend what at first glance would seem a hopeless family tragedy.
Ultimately, however, we witness a father's love helping the son transcend his disability, to realize what the words of the dedication to BORN TWICE say, "For the disabled who struggle not to be normal but to be themselves."

But as the professor emphasizes, there is another thread to the story about his Paolo. And that is the story of what Paolo gives to his father. In numerous vignettes about the truth of disability, we learn it's not inability, but more different ability. In the diversity of human experience, the professor notes ability is relative and cites Paolo's abilities that he personally lacks.

Reading BORN TWICE brought to mind that Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe's life during the last thirty years has similarities to Professor Frigerio's. Oe's son Hikari, born mentally retarded, developed a special facility for composing short musical compositions (Oe recalls young Hikari was especially fascinated with the singing of birds). Like his father who was awarded the 1994 Nobel laureate in literature, Hikari Oe is also an award-winner: His 1992 CD Music of Hikari Oe won Japan's top prize for classical recording of the year. Echoing the fictional Professor Frigerio, Kenzaburo Oe is convinced his son helped him gain a deeper appreciation for the mystery of human life.

For the reader who wants a moving account, however, of the fatherhood experience enriched by an exceptional, though nominally "disabled" son, BORN TWICE is the book to reach for. For the reader who wants to learn more about what the exceptional, if disabled, can achieve, search out accounts of Hikari Oe on the Web or read ROUSE UP, O YOUNG MEN OF THE NEW AGE by Kenzaburo Oe (English translation ,2002) for that novel incorporates many autobiographical elements of the Oe's lives together as father and son. And, yes, both Giuseppe Pontiggia and Kenzaburo Oe are to be praised for being witnesses to the fullness and diversity of human experience in the particular of those we must not ignore.
© Charlie Dickinson

More Reviews

< Back to Index
< Reply to this Article

© Hackwriters 2002