The New York Times Book Review Certainly Buten offers some insight into a troubled child's mind.
When I Was Five I Killed Myselfby Howard Buten
Burton Rembrandt has the sort of perspective on life that is impossible for most adults to even begin to comprehend: the perspective of an 8-year-old boy. And to Burt, his parents and teachers seem to be speaking a language he cannot understand. When Burt meets Jessica, a classmate, he finds solace from the problems of growing up, of dealing with parents and teachers… See more details below
Burton Rembrandt has the sort of perspective on life that is impossible for most adults to even begin to comprehend: the perspective of an 8-year-old boy. And to Burt, his parents and teachers seem to be speaking a language he cannot understand. When Burt meets Jessica, a classmate, he finds solace from the problems of growing up, of dealing with parents and teachers and adults in general. But when he expresses the ardent love he feels for Jessica--an adult love dwelling in his child's mind--he is placed in an institution with autistic, mentally retarded, sociopathic, and generally "disturbed" children. This is Burt's story as written in pencil on the walls of the Quiet Room in The Children's Trust Residence Center. It begins: When I was five I killed myself.
First published in the U.S. as a Young Adult novel by Holt in 1981, Buten's bittersweet portrayal of childhood received wide acclaim but never crossed the line that separates adolescent and adult fiction. In France it has come to be considered a modern classic for children and adults alike. Not since John Irving's Owen Meany has a little boy's particular frame of mind been so indelibly set down on the page, and with this new edition of When I Was Five I Killed Myself, Buten's classic novel is certain to touch readers of all ages.
"Novelist Howard Buten is one of France's best-loved contemporary writers. . . .When I Was Five I Killed Myself has sold more than a million copies in France."--Time
Howard Buten has had seven novels published in France, the first of which, When I Was Five I Killed Myself, has become a modern classic in translation. As a performing artist he has played opera houses around the world as the theatrical clown Buffo. As a clinical psychologist he is the founding clinical director of the Centre Adam Shelton, a national institution for the treatment of autism in young adults, in Paris. In 1991, Howard Buten was named a Chevalier des Artes et Lettres, France's highest literary honor.
- Washington Square Press
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- 5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.60(d)
Read an Excerpt
When I was five I killed myself.
I was waiting for Popeye who comes after the News. He has large wrists for a person and he is strong to the finish. But the News wouldn't end.
My dad was watching it. I had my hands over my ears because I am afraid of the News. I don't enjoy it as television. It has Russians on who will bury us. It has the President of the United States who is bald. It has highlights from this year's fabulous Autorama where I have been once, it was quite enjoyable as an activity.
A man came on the News. He had something in his hand, a doll, and he held it up. (You could see it wasn't real because of the sewing.) I took my hands off.
"This was a little girl's favorite toy," the man said. "And tonight, because of a senseless accident, she is dead."
I ran up to my room.
I jumped on my bed.
I stuffed my face into my pillow and pushed it harder and harder until I couldn't hear anything anymore. I held my breath.
Then my dad came in and took my pillow away and put his hand on me and said my name. I was crying. He bent over and put his hands under me and lifted me up. He did this to the back of my hair and I put my head on him. He is very strong.
He whispered, "It's ok, Son, don't cry."
"I'm not," I said. "I'm a big boy."
But I was crying. Then Dad told me that every day somebody gets dead and nobody knows why. It's just the rules. Then he went downstairs.
I sat on my bed for a long time. I sat and sat. Something was wrong inside me, I felt it inside my stomach and I didn't know what to do. So I layed down on the floor. I stuck out my pointer finger and pointed it at my head. And I pushed down my thumb. And killed myself.
Copyright © 1981, 2000 by Howard Buten
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have read this book probably 10 times. You're sucked into Burt's world without any hope of getting out. It's hard to discern if he is truly disturbed or if his parents just can't seem to care enough. The writing, from the viewpoint of an 8 year old, is exquisite, intelligent and never takes you out of the setting. It's imaginative and tragic. Everytime I read it I get a new feeling of the events and of the characters. It's a rare, but great, find.
After I read 'When I was Five...' I felt utterly sad for two days. It left a really powerful impression on me. It haunts you like regret. The story delves into issues that are not typical for an 8 year old narrator abandonment, sexual frustration, lonliness, love. It is heart breaking because of the story teller's (Burt) horrible hand in life. Detached parents and teachers, strange tangents of make believe (in solitude) and an inability to comunicate. He is punishable under the laws of a parent world that he does not understand. For example, the story reaches a point where Burts infatuation with his classmate Jessica culminates in a naively orchestrated 'sex-act'. It is in fact initiated by Jessica. But upon being discovered by Jessica's Mother, it is Burt who is accused as the aggressor. It brings to mind the song 'Boy's Dont Cry'. The characters demise in a prison of Institutional psychiatry is a result of a language barrier and social pigeon-holing. You feal stuck, too young and helpless along with Burt.. and it hurts just like your own childhood. It is a modern masterpiece
'Getting in touch with your inner child' has been given entirely new voice. 'When I Was Five I Killed Myself', a re-release of an amazing story by Howard Buten, has just found new life on this side of the ocean. Originally published as 'Burt' here in the States in 1981, this original and fresh young adult book didn't find immediate success. Buten then had it published in France, where it (and he) became known as 'one of France's best-loved contemporary writers', even though the author and the story are both American. Go figure. 'When I Was Five...' is the wholly original story of Burton Rembrandt, a precocious and misunderstood young man, trying to grow up around adults who seem to have landed here from another planet. None of their words or actions make much sense to Burton...or Burt...but, neither does he to those who must try to understand and deal with his unique way of seeing the world around him. When an event transpires totally out of Burt's control, and the resulting backlash lands him in The Children's Trust Residence Center, Burt finds himself in a dangerous and completely alien new world. Now, nothing at all makes sense to him...and he reacts in the only way his young mind knows...by throwing tantrums, aching to voice not only his confusion at the treatment he's recieving, but also at his frustration with not being able to communicate this to adults. Told completely from Burt's point of view, this story is one of the most intelligent and lyrical stories ever written. Given the hazy mysticism of youth and told in a voice that is at once immature and completely adult, this goes down as one of the most influential books I have ever read in this genre. It's message and story literally took my breath away at times...and its importance lingers long after I've read the last word.