‘They think I’m perfect when they see me cry.  I cry on cue.  I move my arms and legs.  My fingers and my toes both add up to ten.  Their specialists tick all the columns on their rating scale.  They won’t find out.  None of the tests they run will show my secret.  My subtle imperfection will complicate the lives of everyone who loves me.’

Kaeidoscope describes the impact of an autistic child on the already stressed relationship between two very different sisters.

Claire’s an actuary.  Kate’s an actor.  Each is secretively resentful of what the other has achieved.

It takes the birth of a complicated baby to show them what they have in common.


I was, quite simply, blown away by the magical quality of this book. Erasmus combines an uncompromising audit of emotion with a lyricism that she wields like a knife.

This book is an absolute dream and should not be missed.

Jen Crocker, Cape Times

Kaleidoscope is one of the most powerful and absorbing South African novels I have read this year. The book describes the impact of an autistic child on the already stressed relationship between two very different sisters. Claire’s an actuary. Kate’s an actor. Each is secretly resentful of what the other has achieved. It takes the birth of a complicated baby, Amy, who is autistic to show them they have in common.

Julia Paterson, Citizen

Barbara Erasmus’s Kaleidoscope is an insightful family drama anchored by a girl toddler’s autism. The Johannesburg setting, the use of familiar events and signifiers, such as known newspapers gives the novel an authentic feeling. The message is a universal lesson of difference and weakness can become a source of power that influences the course of people’s lives. The compartmentalized narrative clearly depicts a contemporary South African situation but for a change, the differences that are depicted aren’t because of race or gender; and money and success do not create social acceptance like in many conventional stories. The reader is guided with great lucidity into the workings of an autistic mind.

Fumani Diseko, Mail & Guardian, Winter Reading Supplement

Barbara Erasmus has written an absorbing novel, which deals with a serious subject without losing sight of the fact that a novel must be essentially entertaining. She creates the sisters with a believable dexterity and their behaviour at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum is very intriguing. Amy’s presence is felt throughout the beginning of the novel and it is only once halfway through it, that one finds out what is so special about her. There are a few moments in the middle of the story where the factual details about the child’s condition threaten to topple the novel into a case study but these are short-lived. The central dynamic of the novel is believable and compelling. The added facts that one learns about autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are finally a bonus.

Janet Van Eeden, The Witness    

Kaleidoscope steers clear of the story that has become the norm in South Africa – apartheid – and takes an intense peak into a family which is turned up, down and all around when a new member joins it. The newcomer unknowingly pulls the estranged family’s strings together. She doesn’t know it but she is what brings them together and at the same time, tears them apart. This is an important book as it talks about the effect autism has on a family. Kaleidoscope is a welcome change as a story that is proudly South African and yet tackles something other than racism and apartheid.

Hannah Wanjelani, Pretoria News

Fine powers of observation, sensitive and accurate – a poignant account of autism and Aperger’s syndrome.

Dr C. Lombard, Psychologist, Unica School for Learners with Autism, Pretoria

Autism is an extremely complex disorder that is rarely understood unless people have been exposed to its victims or have done a vast amount of research. On reading Kaleidoscope, I was quite amazed at the incredible insight Erasmus has developed concerning the minds of people with Asperger’s Syndrome. I believe Kaleidoscope will make a truly significant difference as regards society’s awareness and understanding of Asperger Syndrome.

Jill Stacey, National Convenor; Autism South Africa

Kaleidoscope is an insightful and touching book – not just about an autistic child but all the people around her as well. Autism doesn’t just affect the child himself or herself but influences and touches all those around him or her in difficult and profound ways which are captured in this book and I am complimented to have been part of its genesis. Savant skills mystify and intrigue us when we encounter them because they at the same time both jarring in their spectacularness and beauty as well as jarring to the way we ordinarily think about ourselves and our capabilities. The text paints a complex and intricate picture of both autism and savant skills – a kaleidoscope picture which changes as the autistic savant moves along the life spectrum.

Darold Treffert, Author of Extraordinary People – An Exploration of the Savant Syndrome

Claire is ice blue, triangular, beautiful. Her speciality is lists, she remembers them verbatim. Katherine is red, multi-angled, a chameleon slipping into whatever role she is playing and making it seem authentic. Amy won’t let anyone cross her boundaries, she is a butterfly that has folded her wings and crept back into her cocoon. Kaleidoscope is a novel about shifting perspectives within a family brought about by the birth of an autistic child.

Exclusive Books, Lead Reads – April 2004, Fanatics Quarterly – Autumn 2004

Erasmus hou regdeur die verhaaal ‘n saaklike stelwyse vol wat die leser boei en meesleur. Na Raaselkind is die klimaks van die roman terselfdertyd iewat van ‘n teleurstelling en ‘n onderbeklemtoonde triomf. Vir die leser wat William Faulkner se The sound and the fury moelik vind, behoort Kaleidoscope ‘n paar nuttige ure te besorg.


Kaleidoscope is an intriguing novel about shifting perspectives within a family brought about by the birth of an autistic child. Primarily about relationships, insights are given into the difference between early infantile autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and social phobia.

Exclusive Books, Homebru Campaign

A member of the Homebru Collection for this year, Kaleidoscope offers a more academic approach to a subject that seems to be cropping up often in fiction lately : autism The story is narrated by four characters, each with their own dialogue concerning their relationships to each other and Amy, an autistic child. The book makes an impact with its cold, clinical characters coupled with the alarming and unexpected strength of the emotions that pour forth as each individual struggles to cope with Amy’s condition.


The overwhelming emotions experienced by all who were touched by little Amy made the novel powerful. As is experienced in life, the novel reveals that we often find solutions in the least likely of places.


Kaleidoscope holds a very important but difficult message, artfully delivered and engagingly told. Every parent with a special needs child should read this – there is so much here that will be comforting.

Don Tubesing, President – Publishers Marketing Association (www.pma-online.org)

Erasmus has not only written a book as page-turning as any thriller, she has graced it with lyrical writing and thorough but unobtrusive and fascinating research. I started it at 11.00 am one day, planning to read a chapter or two and by 4.00pm the same day had finished it. With sympathy but without sentimentality, Erasmus shows the effect autism has not only on the autistic child but on her family – good effects and bad effects but always believable effects.

Vicky Canning, Sandton Literary Agency

I thought the way you introduced and bound the whole plot together with the kaleidoscope imagery was masterful and it lent itself beautifully and effectively to the shift of focus from one character to the other.  I found it a most believable and riveting read with the characterization, information and unfolding of the plot to its dramatic and heart-wrenching climatic point, spell-binding. The conclusion, given by Claire was a perfectly fitting ending – full circle, but a more rounded, warmer Claire with hope and questions evenly balanced.

Margie Stevens

I so enjoyed the story and became totally absorbed with the development of the characters and how they all impacted on each others lives and emotions.  I was impressed by the research you’d undertaken.  I loved your way of expressing ideas and I recognised your dry sense of humour many times which reminded me of staff room days. I’m so impressed by your book, it had such an air of authority that it is hard to remember that it is your first published book. I’m convinced that there will be many more.  Your writing shows deep insight and sensitivity and the story keeps the reader’s attention alive.

Jenny Howitt, Cape Town

I was hooked in from the beginning and it took me 2 very late eye-popping nights to finish it. What amazed me is how you created these not very sympathetic characters and made them grow in scope as the book progressed. The whole story was like peeling an onion – layer upon layer of new discoveries about the autistic condition and the people affected by it. If one contemplates the lives of those characters without the arrival of Amy, one begins to understand how such an afflicted child can grow everyone who has to deal with her. Your characters found things in themselves of which they were unaware until tested by the circumstance of Amy. For me, the book was more about the change/enlightenment/self-identification of the adult characters than the affliction of autism. You have a fine spare style of writing and I hope there’s more to come.

Di Stevenson, Cape Town

I think the way you capture 4 major separate characters realistically is no mean feat. You also capture speech patterns which contributes to the realism.

Dene MacKay, London

My neighbour gave me Kaleidoscope, once I started to read it I couldn’t put it down!  This book should have been written 60 years ago.  This is one book that wakes you up and says it’s not just another phase, you will outgrow it, it says follow your gut instinct and get help for your child.  I have a friend whose child is being left behind because the Dad is just saying, he’ll outgrow it…! I have lent it to him to read, empowerment is the only way to get to the next level, your book is written in such a way that it says it is okay to seek help, no one is going to think you as a parent did this to your child.

Maggie Ziehl, Johannesburg  

I just finished reading Kaleidoscope‘ and I loved it.  I couldn’t stop talking about it and I am desperate for Daniel to read it.  I don’t often gush about a book.  Please let Barbara know that it was fantastic, not at all what I expected.  I loved the use of the word kaleidoscope and how each character is a different colour and shape; very clever.  A good read for anyone.

Brenda Walters <solematters@maintainair.co.za>



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