Book Quote:

“But then Carolina began to see again, in her dreams. At first the glimpses were so slim they might only have been memories: the sun blazing through the new spring leaves, which seemed to be in danger of disintegrating in its rays; a box her mother kept by her bed, red cloth, embroidered with a white parrot; a silver bowl full of lemons.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (JUN 29, 2011)

For a book that focuses on a blind contessa, this is an extraordinarily visual novel.  It’s filled with vivid descriptions: afternoon sun streaming through the scarves in windows, stars that flare into full suns or disappear altogether, bright flashes of bird wings, wicks blazing in chandeliers, colorful marzipan fashioned into the shape of lemons, grapes, apples, and roses, glorious dresses in rich hues of blue watered silk with scarlett ribbons.

The beauty of The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is that the young author, Carey Wallace, shows us exactly what is lost when Carolina Fantoni, an eighteen year old Italian contessa, gradually loses her eyesight.

Her sight becomes a metaphor for the narrowing of her world in general.  She becomes pledged to marry the town’s most handsome and wealthy bachelor, Pietro, who is good to her, but merely because of her exquisite beauty, not because of a meeting of the minds. It is her older married friend Pellegrino Turri, an eccentric inventor who enchants and engages her.   Her mother cautions her:  “After you are married…many things may happen.  You will not speak of him. Neither will your husband, if he is a gentleman.  Do you understand?”

As Carolina loses all sight, Turri creates the world’s first typewriter to help her communicate with the outside world and to build deeper intimacy with him;  something that is fraught with anxiety since both are married to other people.  A simple read reveals a love affair between two people whose very souls connect despite overwhelming odds – a lyrical, poignant revelation of love fulfilled despite difficult odds.

But a deeper read reflects that at its heart, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine true theme is the power of imagination:   the invention of the typewriter (in historical fact, Turri did create this machine in 1808)…the ways our dreams compensate for what is lost in real life…and how our true vision is in our mind’s eye.

Carey Wallace writes, “As the summer wore on, Turri had developed the habit of asking her where they were each time they met. At the question, a vision always sprang up…hidden waterfalls, new gardens, unknown shores. Perhaps lured by these imaginings, her dreams had begun to return as well.”  Interestingly, as Carolina loses her sight, she begins to see whole new and fascinating worlds – those of her own creation.  Her unseeing eyes may be useless, but her mind is stunningly alive and able to create a smorgasbord of mind-pictures.

The author demonstrates a sure hand in her historical descriptions and a knowledge of the cost of encroaching blindness.  Some characters need a little more back story, but all in all, this is a whimsical recreation of a forgotten time in history.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 40 readers
PUBLISHER: Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition (June 28, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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June 29, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, italy

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