Invisible: A Memoir

Invisible: A Memoir

by Hugues de Montalembert

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The impressionistic memoir of an artist who was blinded in a sudden act of violence, leading to a profound meditation on what it means to see and be seen

“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


The impressionistic memoir of an artist who was blinded in a sudden act of violence, leading to a profound meditation on what it means to see and be seen

“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’ 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.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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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
"When Hugues de Montalembert was blinded in a sudden, terrible act of violence, he set out to see the world. In luminous and sensual language, he recounts his journeys through Indonesia, the Himalayas, and Greenland. But he also charts a journey into the deepest places of the heart, where fear and courage, love and rage create spectacular vistas most of us will never see. As much poem as memoir, Invisible is like a streak of lightning against an ink-black sky."— Geraldine Brooks, bestselling author of March and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"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, bestselling author of Here If You Need Me

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Atria Books
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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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