Invisible: A Memoir


“You live in a city like New York. You read the papers. You look at the television. But you never think it will happen to you. It happened to me one evening.”

One summer night in 1978, Hugues de Montalembert returned home to his New York City apartment to find two men robbing him. In a violent struggle, one of the assailants threw paint thinner in Hugues’s face. Within a few hours, he was completely blind.

Eloquent and provocative, Invisible ...

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Invisible: A Memoir

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“You live in a city like New York. You read the papers. You look at the television. But you never think it will happen to you. It happened to me one evening.”

One summer night in 1978, Hugues de Montalembert returned home to his New York City apartment to find two men robbing him. In a violent struggle, one of the assailants threw paint thinner in Hugues’s face. Within a few hours, he was completely blind.

Eloquent and provocative, Invisible moves beyond the horrific events of that night to what happened to Hugues after he lost his sight: his rehabilitation, his solo travels around the world, and the remarkable way he learned to “see” even without the use of his eyes.

Without a trace of self-pity, Hugues describes his transition from an up-and-coming painter to a blind man who had to learn to walk with a cane. His status changed in the eyes of other people as their reactions ranged from avoidance to making him their confidant. Hugues traveled to faraway places and learned to trust strangers and find himself at home in any situation.

Part philosophy, part autobiography, part inspiration, Invisible will change the way readers understand reality and their place in the world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Luminous and sensual. . . . A journey into the deepest places of the heart.”
—Geraldine Brooks

Invisible has a purity, a clarity that is truly inspiring.”
Los Angeles Times

Invisible puts questions of life and suffering into sharp focus, without sanctimony or sentimentality.”

“An artist whose lack of sight hasn’t diminished his lust for life. . . . de Montalembert displays admirable candor and biting wit.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“de Montalembert’s vital, determined voice is worth attending.”
Publishers Weekly

“Hugues de Montalembert writes beautifully. With a rare and enviable discipline and a becoming modesty, he has distilled what is essential from a life lived through and then beyond (far, far beyond!) misfortune.”
—Kate Braestrup, national bestselling author of Here If You Need Me

Publishers Weekly
Blinded in a senseless attack in his New York home in 1978, de Montalembert, then a filmmaker and painter, was violently forced out of his intensely visual world. In this raw memoir, more a brainstorming session than a narrative, he approaches his new life with stunning directness, navigating the environs of Manhattan and, not much later, Bali and Greenland, with precocious new confidence and ability. He's also painfully honest about the affects of his blindness, refusing the comfort of standard tropes about spirituality but finding wonder in the kindness of absolute strangers, isolation from those closest to him, and other un-thought-of moments of triumph and despair stemming from the way his condition affects his closest relationships. A French-born artist, de Montalembert will draw inevitable comparisons to Jean-Dominique Bauby (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), and de Montalembert's effort is certainly a more challenging read, stylistically: broken, brief, at times like a prose poem. It depends on the reader whether this approach makes for a cumulative impact, or just gets tiring. Still, de Montalembert vital, determined voice is worth attending.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
An impressionistic memoir by an artist whose lack of sight hasn't diminished his lust for life. In 1978, painter and filmmaker de Montalembert was attacked in his Manhattan home by a pair of burglars, one of whom threw paint thinner in his eyes and blinded him permanently. He recalled the assault and his recovery in Eclipse (1985), which became a bestseller in his native France. Invisible tells much the same story, but this slim book is styled more like a prose poem than a formal autobiography. Brief chapters alternate between the present and past tense, capturing both the author's feelings of loss and fear in the days after the attack as well as his growing confidence in the years that followed. A lifelong world traveler, he slowly learned not just to navigate New York City streets but to catch planes to Indonesia, Greenland, India and other far-flung places, where he sought and occasionally found spiritual peace. De Montalembert is more hard-headed and down-to-earth than such earnest seeking might suggest. He bluntly states that "loss of sight is a mechanical accident, not a state of grace or an event fraught with spiritual consequences," and he displays admirable candor and biting wit in discussing his clumsy first efforts to get around as a blind man, not to mention the romances that helped him during his recovery. However, specific events on his journey, including a trip to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas, cry out for a fuller treatment, and the closing chapters drift into airy platitudes about the pleasures of art and the need to resist self-pity. The book is not a feel-good story, but that doesn't stop the author from lapsing into cliches about hope and the future. DeMontalembert deftly shows how his other senses came to the fore after he lost his sight, but his spiritual awakening feels unconvincing. First printing of 60,000. Agent: Kris Dahl/ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416593676
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 9/20/2011
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 549,051
  • Product dimensions: 4.70 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in France, Hugues de Montalembert is a painter and photographer who was blinded during a violent assault while living in New York in 1978. He is the author of one previous book in English, Eclipse (1985). His story was also the basis of the acclaimed documentary film, Black Sun (2007). He currently lives in Paris.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 16, 2011

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    When Montalembert loses his eyesight due to violence it is as though everything has been taken away from him. Being an artistic individual it was the one sense he could not stand to lose. In this book, the ability to see through the eyes of a blind man becomes one of the most beautifully written memoirs I have read in quite some time.

    Montalembert takes you on a journey, where he shows you what he sees regardless of his loss. It's hard to truly call him a blind man, when his world seems so extraordinarily vivid in comparison to our own. I truly enjoyed this book. It's a memoir that is truly memorable.

    Kitty Bullard / Great Minds Think Aloud

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  • Posted September 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Read this book and learn something about yourself and the world around you.

    This short book will make you think about life and how you are living it. Are you waiting for something to happen before you actually get out there and live? Blinded by two thieves this author learned to live his life to the fullest. He had a full life before the blindness, but after he refused to let it change things. He traveled and saw the world without the help of his eyes. He met people who opened up to him because they couldn't look into his eyes and see his judgments. He learned that there are worse things that can happen in life then losing one's sight.

    Where do you fit in this world? What do you have to give and what can others give you. I loved this book and it took a bit over an hour to read. My favorite few paragraphs are at the very end. I don't want to spoil it for you, but it made me think that life is full of people who need our compassion and help yet we don't see them. Who will see them if we don't?

    Read this book, take an hour or two and really think about what the pages are saying. This is a book for anyone and everyone. This will change the way you see everyday life. Beauty surrounds us, but do we really ever truly see it? READ THIS BOOK!

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    Posted April 10, 2011

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    Posted September 21, 2010

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