Cipriani, Belo Miguel. “Blind: A Memoir”, Wheatmark , 2011.
What a Story!
I must admit that this is a book that is quite a memoir and even though I had heard about what happened, I never imagined that the book would hit me so hard. I am sure that I shook my head as I read. I cannot imagine what went through Cipriani’s mind as he was being beaten and blinded by people who had been his childhood friends. The book actually begins some two years after Belo was assaulted and at 26 years old he had to learn everything all over again. What is so interesting is that we see through his blind eyes and it is eerie. I used to do an exercise with my students and would have them close their eyes. I would tell them that they had been born blind and had never seen a thing. I would then ask different students to describe colors—red, blue, etc but they had to remember that they had never seen those colors or anything associated with them. The results were fascinating because we all know that eyes are the windows to the world and so much depends upon visual perception. As I read this book that exercise kept going through my mind.
As a young gay man in San Jose, California, Belo and his friends confided everything in each other. But Belo went off to college and outgrew his friends and then he entered the work force and was enjoying a successful life. As he moved on, his old friends became jealous and vindictive and in 2007,one evening, they assaulted him and left him blind. (I know, I know—this is difficult to take in).
As I read I thought to myself how lucky I was to be able to read this with my eyes, something that the author is not able to do. We see Belo’s courage and how hard he worked to become whole after the assault. I was in awe of the beauty of the author’s language and the elegance of his prose. It is not enough that he has a story to tell but he also knows how to tell it. There is no self-pity and no anger—here is a storyteller telling his story in glorious measured prose and it is amazing.
I am sure that I will never look at a blind person in the same way again and I know that I will never again take my eyes for granted. Belo Cipriani has taken a huge swan dive into the literary world that is as close to perfection as a new author can hope for. He writes with humor and passion and his strength should be a lesson to all of us.
And we meet Madge, the wonderful Labrador who has become the author’s eyes and his best friend. Madge and Belo are quite a team and the way that the author has dealt with what happened to him rates as JFK used to say, a “profile in courage”. I only hope that there is another book coming from him soon.