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Book jackets are always asking us: What would you do if…? And a memoir allows us a peek into someone’s experience to learn from them, feel some catharsis, and know more about ourselves once we’ve read it. Blind: A Memoir (Wheatmark) by Belo Cipriani asks: What would you do if you were blinded mid-life by people who used to be your friends? Most of the answers I can come up with are rather ugly, and I don’t think I am alone in that. The beauty of this book is that the author takes us beyond the event and shows the reader how, rather than being a death, a catastrophic injury can signal a new life. This author details how he adjusts to this new life with a sense of humor, patience, and no small amount of grace.
This book reminds us how vulnerable we all are to each other. We have to trust our bodies to strangers every time we leave the house. Belo’s blindness came at the hands of his childhood friends. We see some insight into their lives in a few chapters, but they seem to disappear from the narrative without warning. The author never details a falling out or last big fight, these friends just seemingly drift apart, only to be reunited through an act of violence the author never saw coming.
Sudden blindness means relearning things most of us take for granted and Cipriani details them all: cooking, walking to work, making friends, buying clothes, and meeting guys. Blindness also means losing the ability to see one’s self, but, as Cipriani tells us, not the “vanity” that comes along with being human. Belo discovers a world of technology aimed at helping the blind tell time, text friends, and know the colors of their shirts. The biggest thing I learned from this book is that most sighted people know nothing about the blind. Cipriani puts this comically when he says,
The class of blind people that most sighted individuals seem to be familiar with is a category I refer to as “Super Blind.” This cohort includes Helen Keller, the guy that climbed Mt. Everest, and the comic book superhero Daredevil.
This memoir is full of comic lines like that one. And that, to me, is the most comforting and the most unsettling part of it. By approaching the subject matter with humor and lightness, readers may come away with some increased compassion for the blind, Hey, they’re just like us! But it suggests little in the way of action, as if the blind already have all the resources they will need, and provides little catharsis.
Perhaps I am an emotional masochist when it comes to what I read, mostly period-pieces about the impossibility of lesbian love written by certain British novelists, but I wanted this book to hurt me and it didn’t. The bad feelings, anger, depression and frustration, are present in Blind but they are under some heavy gloss. Certainly, some readers will see this as an asset. Instead of wallowing in self-pity this person is proactive, goal-oriented, and open to change. Cipriani asserts that his life hasn’t ended by being blinded and that he aims to live a life just as full as his sighted one. He takes his audience with him, showing them a wholly different sense of reality without vision, but without the icky feelings I think most of us would have. The benefit of this is that we get to see a memoir of tragedy from another side, that of rebirth. Within two years, Cipriani learns to walk without sight, continues to date men, gets a high-quality job in his field, practices the acrobatic art of capoeira, goes back to school for an MFA, and becomes an advocate for other blind people. Cipriani may claim to be an ordinary person, but he comes off looking pretty Super after all.
Blind: A Memoir
by Belo Miguel Cipriani
Paperback, 9781604945553, 173pp