A CHILD CALLED IT-DAVE PELZER

B1This book is David Pelzer’s autobiographical and heart-rending account of his abuse by his mother. It is a story that afflicts the reader with multiple sorrows from its beginning till the end.

David Pelzer, the third of four brothers, grew up in what in the beginning seemed an ordinary home. It was a home where each day was ‘a new adventure’, with life ‘everyday, sprinkled with magic’. It was a life where mum (Catherine Roerva) took her sons on day trips, where Spring meant picnics, and mum and dad ‘seemed happy to lie next to each other on a blanket, sip red wine’ and watch their children play.

Then, almost overnight, Dave’s paradise was lost. His home became Milton’s burning Lake of Hell. His mother became unrecognisable as a human being. She plied herself incessantly with drink, and when she yelled ‘her voice changed from the nurturing mother to the wicked witch.’ From being a mother whose embrace always made Dave feel safe and warm, she became ‘The Mother’-a frightening, appalling and sadistic figure.

The Mother’ would grab Dave and smash his face against the mirror. When she hit him, it was with such ferocious frenzy that ‘her punches seemed to last forever.’ She poured ‘ammonia’ and ‘Clorox’ down his throat until his brain screamed. To her he ceased to be a son but a slave and was no longer a boy but an ‘it’. She burnt him on a hot stove and rammed a bar of soap down his throat to stop him from speaking. She roared at him, starved him and even fed him vomit and excrement. ‘The Mother’ even stabbed her child.

Though the school was a haven from domestic torture, he was often so hungry that he stole food-‘Twinkies and other desserts’ from fellow students. Because of this he became a total outcast at school. No student would have anything to do with him. In the playground, he was called ‘David the Food Thief.‘ Every day came with torture and degradation.

Dave’s father, Stephen Joseph, who ‘had broad shoulders and forearms that would make any muscle man proud,’ failed to protect his son. He was a muscle-bound weakling who dealt with the decay of his family by drinking excessively, and cowardly turning his back on his besieged son.

Dave Pelzer’s story is a monument to human courage. Dave’s youth belied his resilience to survive. His mother’s savagery and his father’s indifference notwithstanding, he vowed ‘not to give in, even to death.’ Even after reading the book, it is hard to comprehend how one so young could withstand such an ordeal for so long.

His mother was brutish with a tormented soul. But, she was also cunning and slippery and often managed e to explain away most suspicions of child abuse from outsiders. Like a greased beast, it was often difficult to corner her. But, young Dave was finally rescued from her torture and found a haven with a foster family that loved him.

He went on to serve his country in war and received commendations from three American presidents. He is a best-selling author of five books, and a loving husband and father. He is now a man on a noble mission and an inspiration to thousands of defeated spirits around the world. All this came about following his massive wounding as a child. Out of sorrow came growth, purpose, and even joy.

Unfortunately, a lot of victims of child abuse never survive. When they do, they often continue the cycle of rage against society. Dave Pelzer’s tale is a disturbing and brilliantly written narrative of gratuitous violence. There is almost no sentence that does not contribute to the aggravation of the distress. The depth of Dave’s pain is stamped on every word. As we read the book, we find ourselves nearer, and almost witnesses to the carnage of his childhood.

Once the reader opens the book, it is impossible to put it down. And when completed, this story of sickening violence in Dave’s home lingers in the mind for long. Though Catherine Roerva didn’t murder her son, in some way she killed him many times over: his childhood, his innocence, his trust, but fortunately not his will to live.

 

 

BLINDNESS-JOSE SARAMAGO

Radio Today Sue Grant-Marshall and Mtutuzeli Nyoka Jose Saramago was one of the most significant writers of the modern novel. Blindness is a haunting story written with great skill and authority. The characters are peculiar, and yet the book is contemporary and bravely depicts the human condition.

The story reads like one of Dante’s apocalyptic fables. However, Saramago’s purgatory is rooted in real life. The interest of the story centers on an unnamed town whose citizens, bar one, are afflicted by blindness. We follow the path of “the first blind man” (no one has a name in Blindness, and even the city is not identified) as he loses his eyesight while driving his car.

Distraught, the first blind man, is comforted by a stranger. The Good Samaritan, who helps him get home, eventually steals his car.  However, “the thief” soon loses his eyesight. They later meet at the doctor’s surgery and the ‘the first blind man’ rages at ‘the thief’ for stealing his car.

But, ‘the thief’ responds: ‘If you think you’re going to get away with this, then you’re mistaken, all right, I stole your car, but you stole my eyesight, so who’s the bigger thief.’

Thus with everyone both a victim and a culprit, the carnage of the blind begins. The doctor who exams ‘the first blind man’ could find no cause or lesion for his blindness. “Who would have believed it? Seen merely at a glance, the man’s eyes seem healthy, the iris looks bright, luminous, the sclera white, as compact as porcelain.’ Later, even the doctor succumbs to the spreading epidemic of blindness. Soon almost, the entire city becomes blind.

The Minister of Health recommends quarantine for all those who were blind or had been in contact with them until a cure is found. From this environment of the blind leading the blind a tragedy unfolds where the world becomes a dangerous place, a ‘hell of hells’ where even soldiers fear the blind citizens. With their blindness, the citizens had transported war from the field to their streets, with man more fearsome than a beast.

It is at this point that the reader may flinch, and even turn away in disgust at the carnage that unfolds. The dark streets are covered in filth; there is no food or running water; the dead lie unburied: the city is teeming with scavengers; there are multiple accidents with planes plunging from the sky because the pilots are blind. There seem to be no limits to the misfortune of the blind. However, the story’s magnificence transcends the evil, and even turns it into a light that illuminates the universal tragedy of ignorance.

At the end of the book one of the characters asks: ‘Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.’ None of the tragic events in the book is superfluous, and they show that human dignity is insulted every day by the corrupters of the truth in our world. Sadly, these are the ones that hardly make an appearance in the book. In Saramago’s refreshing but tragic fantasy is the truth, and in his damnation there is a grudging respect for man’s instincts and will to survive, and even thrive.

The strangest passage in Blindness happens when the inmates manage to escape from the asylum after a battle between two gangs of blind people: ‘Say to a blind man, you’re free, open the door that was separating him from the world, Go, you are free, we tell him once more, and he does not go,  he has remained motionless there in the middle of the road, he and the others, they are terrified, they do not know where to go, the fact is that there is no comparison between living in a rational labyrinth, which is, by definition, a mental asylum and venturing forth, without a guiding hand or a dog leash, into the demented labyrinth of the city, where memory serves no purpose.

Blindness belongs to many, and what Saramago is urging us to do is to strike a match as an escape from the disease and pathology of darkness. Blindness is masterfully written-an incredible book that surpasses all of Saramago’s other works.