Vincent Bijlo is more well known in The Netherlands where he works in TV, radio and theatre, as well as in stand up comedy, so I had never heard of him before Holland Park Press asked me to review this book for them. (As always, all opinions herein are my own, and the book was given in exchange for a fair review)
Bijlo was born blind, and has a wonderful sense of humour. The book follows the life of Otto Iking, a blind child who attends a boarding school for visually impaired children. The book is about the way he sees the world, how he understands it, and has that delightful perspective on the world that children seem to have, of seeing through people. On his adventures, he has his own small radio show at the Institute, and rails against his arch-nemesis Edwin, falls for the lovely Sonja and plots with his best friend to help liberate hostages during a siege in Bovensmilde (a well known event in the 70’s).
I loved the spirit of this child, who has really outgrown the Institute and wants to be sent on to a regular school. He’s hilariously funny, getting up to all kinds of boyhood hijinks and torturing his caregivers and teachers. He’s really full of life and intelligent but innocent observations, and I also found the descriptions of his life really interesting, the things he can do, the things he needs to learn and how often he’s underestimated. He also comes from an interesting and highly dysfunctional family, which adds to the drama and pathos of this story. He can’t always understand what’s going on with them, but he gives enough clues that we do.
I really enjoyed this book so much, it’s delightful, witty, intelligent, and though sad at times, it’s also very uplifting. I really enjoyed discovering this child and the way he navigates life, and his life at the Institute with all it’s well meaning strategies, is thoroughly skewered. A really great read, I only wished it were longer.
I highly recommend it.