A friendship reveals the daily challenges faced by the blind and leads to a long relationship in this debut autobiographical novel.
John Kwan suffers blindness and abandonment when very young yet he carries “on with his life with great dignity and optimism.” The plight of the sightless (John’s preferred term) is especially difficult in Hong Kong, as the fast-paced society lacks accommodations for this group. His life consists of “trying to survive from one day to the next, and often at the mercy of other people.” Therefore, when a young man named James meets John at La Salle College in Hong Kong in 1962, he is intrigued that a sightless student attends a regular school. Lacking volumes for the sightless, John manually transcribes his own Braille textbooks from someone reading aloud. This is time consuming and limits his ability to study since Braille only works with English and is impractical with more technical subjects like chemistry and math. By nature a compassionate person, James helps him on Saturdays until he leaves for the University of Hawaii in 1965 and John starts a job working as a phone operator. Inspired by their friendship, James becomes a retinal specialist. John achieves his own celebrity by publishing an acclaimed memoir, Diary of a Blind Orphan. When they reunite 25 years later, James sees the change in his friend from “the lonely, struggling young orphan he had been” to an “accomplished family man.” In Hung’s engrossing novel, the two men’s vivid parallel journeys prove that both the sighted and sightless encounter problems but have the means to achieve happiness. The story excels when it insightfully points out abilities many readers take for granted. For instance, the author skillfully contrasts the ease of learning the periodic table when students can actually see the relationships between elements with the daunting task of memorizing the data from verbal recitations. The rambling tangents about other classmates are unnecessary and will distract the audience from being drawn into the intriguing hurdles and victories of John’s life that effectively show great strength of character.
An engaging tale about a singular friendship that gives voice to the struggles of the sightless.