Book Presentation: Gaby Brimmer: An Autobiography
April 08, 2010
by Ernest Barteldes
Last Thursday I attended a very interesting reading and lecture in celebration of Gaby Brimmer: An Autobiography in Three Voices (by Gaby Brimmer and Elena Poniatowska; translated by Trudy Balch) Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England; $ 26 on Amazon.com – preview available on Google Books), which has finally received an English translation in spite of having been adapted to the screen in English for 1987’s Gaby: A True Story.
The evening opened with a reading from the book by translator Trudy Balch, Lauri Umansky and Rivka Widerman, who each read the parts of the book’s three narrators: her mother, her caretaker and Brimmer herself. After that, Ms. Balch told us a brief history of Gaby Brimmer’s life, who was born in 1947 with cerebral palsy and thrived in spite of her disability, becoming a celebrated poet and disabled rights’ activist in her native Mexico until her untimely death in 2000 at age 53.
She also spoke about the new English edition, which contains both a foreword and an afterword (the latter wasn’t present on the 1979 original in Spanish). She explained that Brimmer was the daughter of Austrian immigrants who left Europe (a New York Times article from 1987 states they were Holocaust survivors) and ultimately settled in Mexico.
A screening of some scenes from the 1987 film directed by Luis Mandocki (When A Man Loves a Woman) followed. The sequence shown was a part in which Brimmer (Rachel Chagall) begins college and embarrasses her caretaker (Norma Aleandro) by having her ask sarcastic questions to her professor (Brimmer communicated by spelling out words on an alphabet board attached to her wheelchair, as she was unable to speak), and her caretaker’s reaction to that. The segment also gave us a glimpse of her close relationship with her father (Robert Loggia) and how her family behaved around her.
As the lights went back on, Ms. Balch was joined by City College Professor Jerry Carlson, and they discussed the relation between the film and the book, and also the challenges faced during the book’s translation. The microphone was then opened for questions – I asked why the film hadn’t been released on DVD in the US yet, and Prof. Carlson stated that there might be rights issues (when searching on Amazon.com, I did find some used VHS copies for sale) that have affected its updated release.
As someone who had never heard about Gaby Brimmer until I signed up to attend the lecture, I must say I was really impressed by what I heard. Ms. Brimmer must have been a formidable person, since she thrived in many ways, to the point of getting married and even adopting a daughter – achievements that many able-bodied individuals are unable to attain.
I am looking forward to reading the book as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. It is clear that there is much to learn from her brief but eventful life. And I also hope that the book’s publication also serves for an incentive for the DVD to finally come out Stateside.