The story resolves in a soulful suggestion that there is no treatment for our fragility– there is just the guts of not merely living with it however embracing it as a wellspring of the tenderness that makes life worth living.
With its undertone of magical realism, the story, translated and released in English by the indefatigable Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Enchanted Lion, starts in a small European town, with the amazing birth of a child of glass– a child lady named Gisele.
With her large, lovely eyes, the luminous Gisele discovers to cope with her unusual condition of total transparency, blending into the city and the landscape, altering color with the setting sun “and shimmering like a thousand mirrors below the moon.”
Alarmed by the noticeable darkness sweeping across her mindscape as it sweeps invisibly through all of ours, the villagers turn on Gisele, begin scolding and shaming her. Unable to take the abuse, Gisele, “shimmering and luminescent, sensitive and transparent,” loads her travel suitcase, kisses her goodbye moms and dads, and leaves.
But any place she goes, carrying her delicate transparency and the excruciating freight of the attendant vulnerability, she comes across the exact same.
Eventually, she realizes that her only salvation lies not in changing the worlds orientation to her but in changing her own orientation to her condition, which in turn changes her interchange with the world.
As word of this living marvel spreads throughout the town and beyond, individuals make pilgrimages from all over the world– to see her, to touch her, to ask the well-meaning, impolite concerns about whether her moms and dads have actually insured her and how she can be patented.
Giseles own deepest fear is not about the fragility of physical breakage– it is the savage vulnerability of being completely transparent, her inner world completely unprotected from the continuous intrusions of the outer world, her thoughts and sensations, even the most disquieting anxieties and a lot of private fears, visible like an enormous ever-changing collage.
“To be a great person is to have a type of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control,” thinker Martha Nussbaum observed in pondering how to deal with our human fragility. The monumental challenge, however, is that of sculpting such relying on openness from the messy essential vulnerability of being human, sometimes too tender to bear the world with all the unmanageable intrusions of its turmoil and uncertainty, invasions that so often make us feel like we are about to shatter beyond repair.
To be a total person is to befriend the fear of fragility, menacing and intimate as it is– the work of a life time that starts in those most developmental and delicate years when we first end up being mindful of a world separate from ourselves, a world we need to live in, a separateness we must deal with, and in some way stay entire.
How to befriend that worry is what Italian artist and childrens book author Beatrice Alemagna checks out with terrific allegorical deftness and inflammation in Child of Glass (public library)– a long-belated addition to the loveliest childrens books of its year.
Here, the genius of the physical book, untranslatable to a screen, actions in to amplify the level of sensitivity of the story with a syncopation of clear and solid pages. Transparencies of Giseles face layer various mood-states to render the composite confusion of her being (as all of us are) half-opaque to herself however her also being (as we only imagine ourselves to be) entirely transparent to the world.
Couple Child of Glass, the touching and tactile loveliness of which the screen only diminishes, with Alemagnas marvelous illustrated celebration of the rewards of nature and solitude in the age of screens, then revisit her visual serenade to the delight of reading accompanying Adam Gopniks letter to kids in A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.
Illustration by Beatrice Alemagna courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books; pictures by Maria Popova