Book Review: The Blind Contessa’s New Machine

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The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, by Carey Wallace, is incredibly sad. Set in early nineteenth century Italy, it is the fictionalized story of the young contessa (countess) in Italy who went blind at age 18 and the inventor who made her the first typewriter so she could write letters, the story is full of opportunities lost and love found too late.

I ached for the main characters, Carolina (the Contessa) and Turri, who were perfect for each other but separated by age and arranged marriages (Turri was 10 years older than Carolina and married to another woman while Carolina was still a teenager).

From the first word, I could feel the regret and loss Carolina experiences throughout the book. In the beginning, the only person who believes Carolina when she says she is going blind is Turri, her friend. Her mother thinks she is speaking in metaphors, her father ignores her, and her betrothed, Pietro, thinks she is joking.

Pietro does eventually believe her, but doesn’t understand her or what she is going through. In trying to accept her for who she now is, he also refuses to play the games she plays with Turri and her maid, Liza, of pretending to see fantastical sights, and further estranges himself from her.

The hardest part of going blind for Carolina is her dependence on sighted people to help her navigate the world. At the end of the book, she finds herself forced to make changes in her life in ways she didn’t want, due to that dependence.

Rarely does a book make me want to cry, but The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is that rare book.

Five out of five stars.

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