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Book Review - Exiting Nirvana
Exiting Nirvana
by Clara Claiborne Park
Little, Brown, 2001
Review by Elizabeth Batt
Mar 21st 2002

Until the advent of Rain Man (1988) and Dustin Hoffman’s superb portrayal of an autistic adult, society was and may still be, ignorant about the disorder known as autism.  In Exiting Nirvana – A Daughter’s Life with Autism, Clara Claiborne Park, mother of autistic Jessy reintroduces her daughter to us as an adult.  In her previous book The Siege: A Family’s Journey into the World of an Autistic Child, first published in 1967, Claiborne Park detailed the first eight years of Jessy’s life in “Nirvana” – a world of detachment where thoughts and emotions are perceived differently from the given norm.

Jessy is now over forty years of age and both mother and daughter have trodden a difficult path in their quest to exit Nirvana -- “At times we have the eerie feeling that Jessy is a Martian, a visitor from some pure planet where feelings do not exist.” (p. 140).

Clara Claiborne Park effectively shares that journey with us, a journey that illustrates autism like never before.

Autism until recently was a relatively obscure disorder that has gained more notoriety through acknowledgement and the dispelling of myths.  While we might now know an autistic child, autism is still not easily defined.  With few specifics, the battle to understand a condition that has no borders, boundaries or extents is never-ending.

What Claiborne Park offers in this book is autism presented with a depth that will appeal equally to professionals and parents of autistic children alike.

For the study of autism, this book is certainly a must read.  While autism cannot be so simply clarified, the parental views offered, coupled with timely references to statistical data, studies and further research recommendations, present the layman with an initial understanding of autism without the difficulty of having to transcend terminology.

Then there is Jessy!  Jessy is indeed the main character of this book and what a character she is.  The words written are very much the work of Jessy’s mother, but there is little doubt as to whom the star is.  Jessy will enthrall you with her simplicity and dazzle you with an intelligence that is beyond our comprehension.  You’ll champion her cause as the author successfully imparts the importance of what to many might seem a trivial breakthrough – “Yet this week I heard something better.  I heard her say, “Come see!”…Words I had to wait forty years for.” (p. 62).

To gain full measure of this book I would certainly initially recommend reading The Siege: A Family’s Journey into the World of an Autistic Child before tackling this one. Although this book stands very well alone, the reading of Jessy’s first eight years with autism will complement and highlight the achievements and tremendous steps that Jessy and her mother have taken in their efforts to exit Nirvana.

Clara Claiborne Park has led the way in traversing the intricacies of autism.  While the disorder itself has not been completely conquered, Claiborne Park presents a clearer path through the mist and mysteries of autism. This book is a guiding light through Nirvana, the making of self-awareness. It is highly recommended for those seeking development in their autistic loved ones.


ã 2002 Elizabeth Batt


Elizabeth Batt, Managing Editor Ancient & European History,



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