Scattered Shadows: A Memoir of Blindness and Vision
ebook, 305 pages
Available as an ebook only. Retail price set at $11.95, but individual sources will differ. Check your reading device's store. Available December 2010.
ePub ISBN: 978-1-60940-117-7
Kindle ISBN: 978-1-60940-118-4
Library PDF ISBN: 978-1-60940-119-1
When John Howard Griffin's sight returned after a decade of blindness, he had already had quite a life as a scholar of medieval music, a member of the French underground in Nazi-occupied France, an observer on an isolated Pacific island, an acclaimed novelist, a convert to Catholicism, and a family man. When his sight returned unexpectedly, he became a medical phenomenon. Scattered Shadows, first published posthumously in 2004, was praised by Library Journal for reminding us that "vision and sight are not synonymous."
- John Howard Griffin's Scattered Shadows has come to light, and is well worth the long wait. It is a fascinating account of blindness that deserves a wide readership.
— Bro. Patrick Hart, Editor of The Message of Thomas Merton
- Scattered Shadows reminds you of what a book can be — if the writer is as powerful as the material. John Howard Griffin was not only a natural storyteller and profound thinker, but he possessed the rare gift of knowing how to make an ally of misfortune. It is as gift he passes on to the reader. You will reach for this book the way you reach for a flashlight in the dark.
— Phyllis Theroux
- A landmark discovery in American literature ... inspiring and triumphant.
— Will D. Campbell
What is so astounding and heart-breaking at once about this book is its honesty. It is couched in faith so tough and lovely that the whole disability issue becomes irrelevant. He rejected, with understandable anger, the patronizing culture that sought to "help" him, because not being able to see somehow required him to depend on others to be whole. That he did not buy into that while his spiritual life took root is the most beautiful part of the book. Though a convert like Thomas Merton, who would later become a close friend, he took nothing about his faith for granted. "The blind person's greatest unhappiness too often comes from those who tell him how tragic he is. It has become a commonly accepted social belief that blindness is unequivocally a tragedy. This is absolutely untrue, and it is the hope of most people who suffer with this so-called handicap, to prove it wrong." That's nothing new to the nascent but growing disability rights movement. But in 1949? That is wisdom bred in the bone, out of the bone. The other mesmerizing thing about Scattered Shadows is that at a time when the self-involved memoir has become a staple -- the celebrity tell-all, the earnest accounts of recovery from abuse -- Griffin always keeps his ego in check. He knows that self-pity is one of the greatest traps he faces. His writing about how he deals with that temptation captivates the reader. He is not arrogant enough to wonder what it all means. He simply accepts it for what it is: a gift that is not really his at all. -- Kathy O'Connell, in America
Griffin's life was marked both by redemptive suffering an by an undeniable lucidity and spiritual health that suggests he had embraced this "wonderful and dark" road. His love of God "spilled over to all humanity," into a love of neighbor that was rooted in faith, and thus was fruitful even when he had no human gifts left to offer. It sustained him through a long and painful dying, and it remains to give courage to those who would follow his example and offer themselves as clay in the potter's hand. -- Rachelle Linner, in U.S. Catholic
The subtitle of Scattered Shadows: A Memoir of Blindness and Vision is not metaphoric. Griffin seems to have taken to sightlessness with a kind of steely gusto, coming to the belief that "a life without sight was as interesting as a life with sight." He was determined to excel in arenas where sight would seem to be essential. He became a champion cattle breeder, for instance. He wrote novels, and fought a pornography charge on one all the way to the Supreme Court (he won). Although fascinated by monastic life, Griffin struggled with faith, and in 1951 converted to Catholicism. He learned Braille, walked fearlessly with a cane, achieving independence by sheer determination, aided by his parents and later his wife Elizabeth. On January 9, 1957, ten-years blind and settled into his life as husband and father, he walked into his parents' house that afternoon and suddenly saw a flash of red, then a door "dancing at crazy angles." Soon after, the dazzling world of color returned: the faces of his parents, his never-before-glimpsed wife, and the children he had known only by touch. Like a figure out of the New Testament, he was miraculously restored.
-- Patrician Hampl, in Commonweal
The Catholic Register (Canada)
Scattered Shadows should be read in conjunction with Black Like Me. Both works are about becoming the Other. In Scattered Shadows, Griffin speaks as a member of the blind community, in his day treated as if helpless, more to be pitied than accepted.... Read it as if it were a prayer.
At the book's center is Griffin's journey from a wanderer who "could no more fix my attention lovingly on God than I could on the wall paper of the room," to a Catholic convert for whom faith "replaced logic, erasing the need for further proof." Readers learn how Griffin managed to raise livestock, fall in love and marry, and write the controversial 1952 novel, The Devil Rides Outside. The author's previous lives had encompassed a scholarly devotion to medieval music and an activist involvement in the French Resistance. His spiritual journey remains moving, and his way with words renders the austerity of an abbey as vividly as the cacophony of a battle-ground, an evening with a nameless blind man as fascinating as one with a renowned poet.
Griffin cuts to the heart of what it means to be human and poignantly reminds us that vision and sight are not synonymous.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
... Much of this posthumous book is drawn from journal entries, in which he tells not only of his loss of sight at 27 and its return at 37 but also the miracle of his life's path. Griffin was driven by a need for solitude and the search for faith as his sight failed. His dark night of the soul continued even after he learned again to read, write, and hold a glass. He struggled to get outside himself, to shake "delusion and self-aggrandizement," to see with the purity and clarity he felt in great music. "The true writer, like the true painter, is an observer of all things, and quite especially of himself, but of himself in detachment." When Griffin's sight returned in colors and shapes and shadows, the first thing to emerge was his two-year-old daughter's face in all its "radiant wisdom," which was like "looking at the sun."
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John Howard Griffin