Reviews of The Country of the Blind by Andrew Leland

The Country of the Blind

A Memoir at the End of Sight

by Andrew Leland

The Country of the Blind by Andrew Leland X
The Country of the Blind by Andrew Leland
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  • Published:
    Jul 2023, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Book Summary

A witty, winning, and revelatory personal narrative of the author's transition from sightedness to blindness and his quest to learn about blindness as a rich culture all its own

We meet Andrew Leland as he's suspended in the liminal state of the soon-to-be blind: he's midway through his life with retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that ushers those who live with it from sightedness to blindness over years, even decades. He grew up with full vision, but starting in his teenage years, his sight began to degrade from the outside in, such that he now sees the world as if through a narrow tube. Soon—but without knowing exactly when—he will likely have no vision left.

Full of apprehension but also dogged curiosity, Leland embarks on a sweeping exploration of the state of being that awaits him: not only the physical experience of blindness but also its language, politics, and customs. He negotiates his changing relationships with his wife and son, and with his own sense of self, as he moves from his mainstream, "typical" life to one with a disability. Part memoir, part historical and cultural investigation, The Country of the Blind represents Leland's determination not to merely survive this transition but to grow from it—to seek out and revel in that which makes blindness enlightening.

Thought-provoking and brimming with warmth and humor, The Country of the Blind is a deeply personal and intellectually exhilarating tour of a way of being that most of us have never paused to consider—and from which we have much to learn.

The Country of the Blind

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges lost his vision—what he called his "reader's and writer's sight"—around the same time that he became the director of the National Library of Argentina. This put him in charge of nearly a million books, he observed, at the very moment he could no longer read them.

Borges, who went blind after a long decline in vision when he was fifty-five, never learned braille. Instead, like Milton, he memorized long passages of literature (his own, and those of the writers he loved), and had companions who read to him and to whom he dictated his writing.

Much of this work—he published nearly forty books after he went blind—was done by his elderly mother, Leonor, with whom he lived until her death at ninety-¬nine, and who had done the same work for Borges's father, Jorge Guillermo Borges, a writer who also went blind in middle age. (Borges's blindness was hereditary, and his father and grandmother ...

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The book is wide-ranging, which some readers may appreciate, but those who pick it up mostly for the autobiographical element may find the profusion of detail on assistive and medical technologies, activists and organizations overwhelming. It is most engaging when we get glimpses of Leland's own blindness journey or go along with him on his travels, such as to a National Federation of the Blind convention in Florida and to one of its residential training courses in Colorado, where he was given sleep shades to simulate total blindness and received lessons in cooking and cleaning. As well as giving a practical rundown of the various causes of blindness and attempts to mitigate it, the book launches a philosophical enquiry into what it means. Is it a formative trait, or something to be resisted?..continued

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

Providing a raw and honest depiction of what it is like to straddle two worlds, Leland lays his feelings and the realities of his condition out on the table, in particular the impact of RP on his personal interactions. The Country of the Blind does not leave readers with a sense of sadness—quite the opposite. By mixing reality checks with wit, Leland's prose exudes hope and authenticity.

The Guardian
Though Leland is accused occasionally by friends of 'over-intellectualising' his situation, his fine sensibility, lucid writing and dignified treatment of his subject feels anything but indulgent. This book invites us all to rethink what it means to desire, to read, to be independent, to sit with uncertainty and to assume a new identity. Leland models how we might accept inevitable changes in our faculties as we age with tempered apprehension, humour and interest.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Leland delivers a masterful exploration of disability in his brilliant debut ... Enriched by its sparkling prose, this is an extraordinary and intellectually rigorous account of adapting to change.

Kirkus Reviews
Leland provides both fascinating capsule histories of the topics he's pondering, as with a survey of the disability rights movement, and searching glimpses into his own existential struggle to understand what it means for him to be blind ... When the author gets personal, he does so with such honesty and vulnerability that by the end, readers will understand when he concludes, 'The process of retinal degeneration has turned out to be one of the most generative experiences of my life' ... Emotional but never sentimental, this quest for insight delivers for its readers.

Library Journal
This informative and engaging memoir will appeal to readers who like to be entertained as they broaden their awareness of disability and others' lives.

Author Blurb Chloé Cooper Jones, author of Easy Beauty
Andrew Leland has written an important and masterful book, one filled with deep thought and feeling, vulnerability and humor, and absolutely gorgeous prose. Rare is the writer who can gift the reader the kind of expansive generosity The Country of the Blind offers with ease on every page.

Author Blurb Dave Eggers, author of The Circle and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
This is such a gorgeous book. Andrew Leland manages to deftly balance the personal, historical and political as he documents—documents is too sterile a word; he gently sings about—his becoming blind. There is a great nonfiction book here about the history of blindness and the pioneers who have built a world of access and empowerment. But crucially, Leland weaves into that larger tapestry the deeply touching story of how he, his wife Lily, and his son Oscar face their myriad new challenges—with open minds and abundant wit, and always fearlessly together.

Author Blurb Joshua Cohen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Netanyahus
Leland writes with astounding humor and humility about ability, disability, the confusions between them, the confusions of middle age, marriage, and parenthood, language in all its beauty and bias, and more to the n-th power. Approaching what he calls the end of sight, he has summoned up that higher vision.

Author Blurb Temple Grandin, author of Visual Thinking
In The Country of the Blind, Andrew Leland tells the story of his gradual transition into the blindness community with sensitivity and insight. He vividly describes his new sensory perceptions and emotions and outlines controversies about the training of the blind. His experiences will resonate powerfully with those in the autism community and beyond. A valuable book.

Reader Reviews


The writer Andrew has explained the book so impressive that whenever I got time I read only this book . I recommend everyone to read this amazing book The Country of the Blind.
prem singh yadav

The Country of the Blind A Memoir at the End of Sight
An Outing Into the Hid: In 'The Country of the Outwardly weakened', Andrew Leland's stunning story brings perusers into a world they've won't ever see. These totally thrilling stories not simply uncovered knowledge into the issues of visual weakness ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Bookshare and Accessible Reading Sources

Photo of person's hand on braille text In The Country of the Blind, Andrew Leland sings the praises of Bookshare, an electronic repository of accessible-format books for the disabled. Bookshare was launched in 2001 by Jim Fruchterman, the leader of Benetech, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that develops technologies to assist those with physical and learning disabilities. The Bookshare mission is stated thus: "Bookshare makes reading easier. People with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading barriers can customize their experience to suit their learning style and find virtually any book they need for school, work, or the joy of reading."

Bookshare can be joined by paying a subscription fee or, often, via subsidization by governments or charitable bodies. The U...

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