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Gaby Brimmer: An Autobiography in Three…

Gaby Brimmer: An Autobiography in Three Voices (Hbi Series on Jewish…

by Gaby Brimmer, Elena Poniatowska

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received my copy of Gaby Brimmer: An Autobiography in Three Voices through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program.

This book was originally published in Mexico in 1979. This edition marks its translation into Enblish and publication in the US.

Gaby Brimmer was born in the late 1940’s in Mexico—a time and a place where her Cerebral Palsy was little understood and the feebleness of her body was often mistaken as feebleness of mind, too. Gaby Brimmer may have been locked into a body with very little function, but her mind was active and far reaching.

Much like Christy Brown’s condition in his autobiography, My Left Foot, Ms Brimmer also had only the use of her left foot. She learned to communicate first by using her foot on a letter board and then by electric typewriter. She admired her father’s philosophical bent, and spent hours in thought and in writing about her condition, her individual potential and those urges she shared with all humans. The poetry in this volume is very thought provoking and was beautifully translated into English by the book’s translator, Trudy Balch.

This book offers a unique form for an autobiography as it records both Gaby’s own thoughts and poetry and also thoughts by her mother, and her lifelong nurse. No punches are pulled in Gaby’s thoughts as she records her frustrations with both friends and caretakers. While her mother is sometimes able to take time off from her care of Gaby and visit friends or Gaby’s brother in Germany, no such option is available to Gaby. Nor does it seem to be available to Gaby’s full time nurse Florencio, whose dedication to Gaby stands alongside Anne Sullivan’s to Helen Keller.

The book follows Gaby through her schooling, her young adulthood and the beginning of her journey as a mother to the little girl she adopted. While Gaby Brimmer is noted for championing the rights of the disabled in Mexico, most of this occurred after this book’s original publication in 1979. It was the publication of this book that gave Ms Brimmer the platform and springboard she needed to become a voice for the disabled rights movement. Unfortunately, this later work is condensed into a few pages of an afterword leaving us with only a bare skeleton of her accomplishments. I would have appreciated more.

I would also have appreciated more explanation of Mexico’s political system and the turmoil in 1968 which defined not only how Gaby viewed Mexican politics, but, according to the book, the way her whole generation viewed them. While there are many reference footnotes, most are not of the explanatory type which would have helped those like myself who do not have a large knowledge of Mexico’s history.

Overall though, I found it an inspiring story of Gaby Brimmer’s courage and was touched by her words and her poetry. ( )
  streamsong | Nov 13, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The overused word "inspirational" has to come into play here. This Mexican woman was damaged by the Rh factor incompatibility of her parents. Her mobility was almost non-existent. She wrote with her left foot big toe and a typewriter. She insisted on continuing her education against much opposition. She became a leading advocate for the the rights of the disabled and for women. I am a longtime admirer of the work of Elena Poniatowska, who met and became a friend of Ms. Brimmer, and her contribution to the story gives it an extra dimension.
But the person who really stands out is the "servant" who became her lifelong companion and caregiver. This woman gave up all claim on a life of her own and her own children and family, and deserves much of the credit for accomplishments that otherwise would have been impossible. ( )
  jhhymas | Nov 7, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Also still in the process of reading this one! It's definitely interesting, and worthwhile to read. My granddaughter has an extremely severe form of brain damage that can be compared to cerebral palsy, unfortunately hers is so severe that she cannot do anything or interact with anyone, even in as limited a way as Gaby managed. I am glad to know that Gaby was able to express so much of herself, given how constrained her physical abilities were. It is both inspiring and frightening to know that she had so much inside her that she could only express with her typewriter and toes. I say frightening because if she had not found that ability or had access to that ability to write using her foot, she would have been trapped, though I suppose with her drive, she probably would have found some other way. It makes me wonder just what if anything is happening in my granddaughter's mind.
I will say that I am not a fan of Gaby having been allowed to adopt, and I found myself muttering under my breath as I read that part that just because a person wants something does not mean that person should have it, and that especiall goes for having responsibility for a child. I also have to say that that's the point at which I am currently stopped in my reading process of this book. I am just a little annoyed about that part, and need some time before I get back to reading.
  RoseEllen | Oct 11, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Can there be spoilers? This is certainly an interesting book. There is a lot of documentation: several introductions and a footnote-filled afterword. In between is autobiographical fragments by Gaby Brimmer, and her mother, and her caregiver. The introduction(s) point out that Poniatowska added herself to the story (not as a character but her style & viewpoint.) Gaby had cerebral palsy & pretty much just used her left foot, and she wrote a lot, and she helped start the Disability Rights movement in Mexico. It isn't clear if she could have had more physical ability if she had focused on that instead of studying, and it also isn't clear how different things would have been for her if she had been in the US. But she writes clearly & honestly about her life, and things like sex and desire and other people; and it is definitely worth reading. What is a little weird is the personal interplay among the 3 women. I sort of wandered between total sympathy for Gaby & feeling like she was spoiled & overindulged -- but how can that be? She seems to have had complete attention from her caregiver until she adopted a baby who the caregiver then took care of. Gaby is pretty blunt about criticizing the caregiver for how she acted when she took Gaby to school; and she is really blunt in criticizing her mother & her mother just seems to agree with the criticisms. It is a weird dynamic.
  franoscar | Oct 4, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It takes a while to get into this narrative, not because of the subject matter, but because of its lengthy foreword. First comes the introduction to the English language edition. That is followed by the translator’s note and then by the author’s introduction.

Through the voices of Gabriela Brimmer, her mother Sarah Brimmer, and her caregiver Florencia Morales Sanchez, the life story of the Mexican writer and disability rights activist crippled at birth by cerebral palsy is revealed. With largely unintelligible speech and only her left foot under her own control, Gaby sends out messages of prose and poetry, using the great toe of her left foot along with an alphabet board or a typewriter to spell out her thoughts.

No need to feel pity for this woman of strong mind and spirit. She makes it known that a person with cerebral palsy is a complete person who simply does not have full motor or communicative ability. Gaby indicates the need to befriend such a person instead of allowing fear to cause fleeing a possible relationship. She wants others to discover the creative ability and mental alertness which often abides in a disabled body.

Gaby herself fought for the chance to attend school and to try living away from her mother. She valued education and became thoroughly indoctrinated in students’ rights during the turbulent 1960’s. Despite never marrying, she was determined to become a mother and did so through adoption.

The picture on the cover of the book presents a woman with a mischievous expression. That Gaby is no longer alive is the sad part of this book. Hopefully, though, her story will provide readers with new insight into disabilities leading to more support for disabled people's rights. I wasn't as affected by Gaby's poetry as I was by the honesty in her prose and her determination to live a meaningful life. I felt that her book has the strength to empower others into also fighting for rights for disabled individuals. For that alone, the book is a worthwhile read.

There is an afterword which explains Gaby’s lifetime accomplishments. In all, I found her story very inspiring. ( )
1 vote SqueakyChu | Sep 20, 2009 |
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