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When I Was Five I Killed Myself

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About the Author

Howard Buten, the author of seven novels published in France, is a performing artist known as Buffo the clown, who has played opera houses around the world. A clinical psychologist who won France's highest literary honor (Chevalier des Artes et Lettres) in 1991, he divides his time between Paris and New York.


A kind of "Boy, Interrupted" starring a misunderstood eight-year-old, Buten's first novel, written in the late '70s, has likewise been misunderstood stateside. Burton Rembrandt is placed in the Children's Trust Residence Center, an institution for disturbed, psychopathic or autistic children, following an inappropriate amorous encounter with female classmate Jessica. Told in Burt's precocious voice, the story is supposedly written by the boy in pencil on the walls of the Quiet Room. It is a compelling study of the tragedy that can result when literal-minded children and literal-minded adults fail to understand each other. The adults (parents and psychiatrists alike) take little responsibility for the misinformation they spout while they narrowly interpret as sociopathology Burt's innocent comments, normal for any child, about his "hate" or his desire to "kill" something. Wrongly incarcerated with autistic and truly sociopathic children, it is not until Burt encounters a sympathetic psychiatric resident that hope begins to grow, both in Burt and the reader, that the boy will finally be seen for what he is: a child who has a right to an ordinary life. A similar case of mistaken identity has also dogged Buten's novel for 19 years: in 1981 a small, now out-of-print edition of this book was published in the U.S. under the title Burt and was mistakenly billed as a young adult title, receiving little attention. The French translation sold more than a million copies, however, and it has twice been adapted as a film and produced as a play there. Subsequently, Buten published six other novels in France. This psychologically intense tale moves quickly, and the difficult task of creating a child's voice with authenticity and depth proves Buten a gifted stylist and storyteller. The re-publication, after nearly two decades, of this imaginative and provocative book should earn the author the acclaim he deserves on this side of the Atlantic. Agent, the Young Agency. (June) FYI: A clinical psychiatrist, Buten is the founding clinical director of the Adam Shelton Center for the treatment of autism. In the guise of a clown, Buffo, he also performs for autistic children. In 1991, Buten was named a Chevalier des Artes et Lettres, France's highest literary honor. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) This psychologically intense tale moves quickly, and the difficult task of creating a child's voice with authenticity and depth proves Buten a gifted stylist and storyteller.
The New York Times Book Review Certainly Buten offers some insight into a troubled child's mind.

Published in 1981 as Burt, this novel, told from the point of view of a child, received praise for actually sounding as such. Unfortuntately, it was unfairly marketed as a young adult title, so librarians who passed on it for their adult collections should reconsider this time around. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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