C O N T E M P O R A R Y F I C T I O N
Dan Brown's bestselling thriller, The Da Vinci Code, revolves around the efforts of a Harvard symbologist and French cryptologist to unravel the mystery behind a murder that takes place in modern-day France's Louvre museum. The victim is the Louvre's chief curator, who is also the cryptologist's grandfather, and his body is found under Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The scene of the crime contains several puzzling codes which point to clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci. The search for answers leads the two sleuths into the secret workings of underground religious societies dating back to the Biblical era, one of which the late curator and Da Vinci himself belonged to.
A main character in the book is Silas, an albino monk belonging to the Opus Dei sect, a conservative Catholic order. While Brown's novel is rich in research, his description of Silas's albinism by contrast shows very little in the way of scholarship. "His irises were pink with dark red pupils," the book says, despite the well-established fact that people with albinism most often have blue eyes that only sometimes, in certain types of lighting, take on reddish or purplish hues. Furthermore, Silas is a sharp-shooting assassin who drives a car, which lacks plausibility given that most people with albinism are legally blind. His appearance is portrayed as ghostly and demonic, and he is ostracized because of his condition.
While a legitimate point is made about the social stigma associated with albinism, the story implies that people in such circumstances are incapable of transcending them, and that developing misanthropic tendencies is inevitable as a result. Rather than further contributing to the ignorance surrounding albinism by merely falling back on an ill-informed and offensive stereotype, a more responsible approach might have been to portray Silas as one who rises above his difficulties and is stronger for having endured them.
Farnes does an admirable job of delving into the realities of what living with albinism entails. Stephanie's physical characteristics and her limited eyesight, while posing significant obstacles to fitting in, are depicted in a manner that is very true to life. It seems likely that Farnes either personally knew someone with albinism or conducted fairly extensive research to be able to capture the essence of Stephanie's visual perceptions of the world around her and the tenor of Stephanie's own responses to her condition with such clarity. Many of the thoughts she attributes to Stephanie would be easy for many people with albinism to relate to. Equally commendable is the fact that Farnes confers upon Stephanie a great deal of worldy wisdom for her age in addition to wittiness, the ability to think independently, and a physically based talent (running) clearly this character, though struggling to maintain her sense of self-worth, demonstrates a certain degree of personal strength.
Unfortunately, Stephanie's journey from cynic to self-proclaimed follower of Christ is somewhat less believeable, and feels contrived. One could argue that two factors ultimately account for her change of heart: a subtle form of peer pressure (the people she respects most are Christian and encourage her to follow their lead) and self-condemnation (arriving at the conclusion that she is a sinner). While these factors alone might sway some, Stephanie's analytical intensity, internal complexity, and independent spirit suggest that it would take considerably more time and/or a higher critical mass of experience for her to reach that threshhold from where she originally started. It seemed as though the storyline hurtled her towards that inevitability without accounting for the fullness of personality Farnes had so carefully developed in Stephanie. Towards the end of the book, Stephanie's albinism is portrayed as one tool among many used to demonstrate the power and the will of Christ it is also the very thing that makes Stephanie more self-critical and needy of acceptance by others. Still, the story has a happy ending, and Stephanie emerges a hero of sorts. Religious overtones notwithstanding, Snow represents a fine example of how the experience of having albinism can be portrayed with both compassion and accuracy.
While it is encouraging to find a protagonist with albinism who emerges intact from her struggles by demonstrating intelligence and introspection, this book has its share of shortcomings as well. One is that it perpetuates the inaccurate notion that people with albinism have pink eyes. The natural eye color of most people with albinism is in fact blue, but occasionally in certain lighting, their eyes can take on tones of purple or red. The idea that people with albinism always have pink or red eyes has been one of the most difficult misconceptions to correct, even amongst medical and scientific professionals.
The more substantial disappointment about this book is that, with the exception of her mother who is dead when the story begins, not a single character with whom Cordy interacts shows her any consistent expression of love or caring. What little kindness she receives is contrived and empty, given with the expectation of monetary reward or momentary pleasure. Even her so-called boyfriend has been using her all along, thinking of nothing but maintaining his hedonistic lifestyle. While her father and stepmother refrain from abusing her and provide for her most basic physical needs, she is largely neglected, barely shown even a hint of warmth or respect by either of them until the book's conclusion. When the story ends, we are not left with an offering of love at the level Cordy deserves, which could bolster her self-esteem and safeguard her from future mishaps all we are led to speculate is that her life might be a little less unpleasant than it used to be. So to some extent, she still remains a love-starved freak, albeit a wiser one.
This novel is refreshing from several standpoints. In addition to its vivid writing and its compelling characters and plot, the element of albinism is handled with sensitivity and respect. Although the condition's pitfalls are rendered with abundant clarity, Harold as a whole human being is not defined by these exclusively. In many ways, Harold is like any other young man trying to find himself, grappling with the same issues in different packaging. He is given an intelligent mind and a caring heart in addition to his pale coloring and weak eyes. One of the great lessons imparted to him is that he is no worse or better than anyone else, and his journey ends up being successful overall.
A particularly noteworthy aspect of this book is that, in the process of writing it, the author did careful research on albinism. He explicitly acknowledges the National Organization of Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH), and also took it upon himself to correspond with one of NOAH's young male members in an effort to make Harold a more realistic and multifaceted character. Additionally, the inclusion of The Cannibal King as a second character with albinism who differs from Harold in certain ways illustrates diversity among individuals with the same condition. In short, Ghost Boy is exemplary in both its treatment of albinism and its storytelling craftsmanship.
"I have just finished reading a book that I found profoundly insightful and disturbing. The book is titled, Sent for You Yesterday by John Edgar Wideman. The setting is the inner city. The main character, a Black man with albinism known as Brother.
Religious Works | Classic Literature | Fantasy Literature | Science Fiction
HOME | Introduction |
Art | Literature | Film |
Fashion | Public Figures | Credits & Links | Other