Romana Vrede

The Noble Autist

Moving debut about a mother and her son, who has autism and learning difficulties

Romana Vrede created a much-acclaimed theatre show about her son Charlie, who has autism and a learning disability: Who’s Afraid of Charlie Stevens? He is also the focal point of her debut novel, The Noble Autist.

Vrede’s biggest fear is that no one will be able to give Charlie the care he needs once she dies – that there will be no one left who understands him. The book starts with her imagining Charlie’s death, a death she won’t be around to witness, but which, with great compassion and affection, she explores in fictional form: ‘I now give you my presence in print.’ She then tells the story of her life before Charlie – of how she fell in love with his father, the moment of his conception, his birth and the realization that he was different from other children.

She describes the happy moments, and calls him the wisest person she knows. But the constant care of her son is hard on her: he is non-verbal, can’t go to the bathroom independently, and can be so physically aggressive sometimes that his care worker ends up getting a brain contusion. She describes the despair and the exhaustion, the reactions from other people, her own shame in public and her sense of guilt about that. She doesn’t always explain or defend his behaviour in public, and ends up feeling like ‘a sad black woman with her sad black child.’

The chapters are told from the perspective of the mother, who regularly quotes from books and plays. Charlie’s fictional response to her story is told in footnotes. This is how the author gives her non-verbal son a voice, with the novel creating the space for some- thing that is impossible in real life – a dialogue between mother and son. Vrede’s determination to empathize with her son rubs off on the reader. The Noble Autist is a call for compassion for those who are different, but above all it’s a moving declaration of love from a mother to her son.

An impressive and inspired self-examination, an impassioned plea for more understanding without any sort of moralism. Raw and powerful, but also funny and, above all, empathetic – and well-written, with an impressive literary structure. Vrede succeeds in holding up a mirror to us: who gets to decide what is ‘normal’?

Cornald Maas (Dutch writer and TV presenter)

A confronting and moving portrait whose merit goes beyond just the artistic quality of the production. It shows how valuable it is to have a different perspective.

De Theaterkrant (on 'Who’s Afraid of Charlie Stevens')


Romana Vrede

Romana Vrede (Paramaribo, 1972) is an actor with Het Nationale Theater. She received the Theo d’Or – the most important Dutch theater prize – for her role in RACE. In 2019, she made Dit is de leven, a much-acclaimed documentary about autistic children.

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De nobele autist (2020). Fiction, 197 pages.
Words: 57,581

Sample translation

English (PDF document)


De Arbeiderspers

Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 760 72 10

[email protected]

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