Literature

Albinism and other human differences have been used as metaphor for hundreds of years. Authors often give their characters physical differences as signals to let the audience and other characters know that the effected person is inherently evil or not to be trusted. Shakespeare gave King Richard III a hunchback for this reason.

Although sometimes our so called condition is used to poke fun at us or used simply for shock value, many times it is used to convey a deeper message.

There are many novels with characters with albinism in them. Some are set in a series such as the Erlik stories written by Michael Moorcock.

Remember that all novels are about the human condition, even the ones where animals are the main characters.

The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells.

The Invisible Man is not to be confused with Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison which is an entirely different book. The Invisible Man was written by H. G. Wells, not to be confused with Orson Wells who is an entirely different person.

Anyone who has only seen the movie and not actually read the book does not realize that the Invisible man has albinism. The lead character, a physicist by the name of Griffon, describes himself as having white hair and red eyes. Yet, for some reason, in the same breath he describes himself as almost albino. Could our mad scientist be in denial?

Albinism plays a key role in this book. Griffon (the name of an impossible hybrid animal) has discovered that the only things he can turn invisible are things without pigment. He manages to disappear a white piece of cloth, a white pillow, a white cat (except for its eyes), and himself. According to this story pigment and melanin could be made devoid of its color properties. Once finding out how to render blood transparent, Griffon finds it easy to make everything else in the body vanish.

Griffon, experimenting on himself has neglected to think about how he was going to return to normal. The experiment also drives him slowly mad. He eventually becomes a pitiful haunted creature, on the run lest he be captured and studied by his fellow scientists as a freak. He is unable to wear cloths (he would be seen), has to steal food and money and becomes unable or unwilling to control his rages. He winds up at the house of an old friend with the last name of Kemp, who, although the book does not use the word, (albino) also has albinistic characteristics. Griffon winds up chasing his friend Kemp with the intent to kill him.

So. Here is the scene at the end of the book. These two people with albinism are running down a road. One visible and living a normal life, one invisible, living like an animal: one raging and fearless, one fearful: one pursuing, one pursued: one clothed, one naked: one loved and respected in the community, one feared and hunted by everyone, you get the picture.

Griffon dies at the end. For some unexplained reason he begins to re-appear upon his death.

There are several glaring discrepancies and overlooked things in the book, such as: Why didn’t he make invisible clothes out of the invisible cloth?

I find it interesting that the lead character is named Griffon. I’m sure it has some meaning. A griffon is a hybrid animal part lion and part eagle. Perhaps this is a symbol of the dual nature of man. The lion and eagle (cat and bird) are natural enemies. You would think they would not get along very well. But in the case of a griffon you have a unique combo creature that has to learn to deal with its dual and contrary nature.

Songs in Ordinary Times by Mary McGarry Morris

“He stopped running, now and began to walk. His eyes flickered warily to the left. Toward that menacing ridge of pine woods beyond which, lay the flats, where people lived in tin roofed shacks and trailers.”

They were all blonds and redheads . . . they shared the same flattened brows and close set palely lit eyes and ghostly pallor that seemed to devolve. Not only whiter with each brood, but thinner, so that there glowed in their flesh now that cold depthless translucence of blue ice like wintery mountain runoff, that marked them as offspring of cousins, so that husband and wife often looked enough alike to be brother and sister.”

Note: In this passage, as in the book, Deliverance, albinism is linked with in-breeding. It is often used to describe a foreign or alien group of other beings, living outside of society by themselves. The idea of the albino outcast group is also suggested in The Isis Papers which is supposed to be history and science theory, but is none other than just plain silly.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Another metaphor about albinism and whiteness. This long and tedious book is famous for the fight between Ahab and his obsession, an albino sperm whale who just wanted to go about his own business. Moby Dick is not evil or out to get Ahab as most people have been made to think. It is Ahab’s obsession that brings the destruction of everyone around him. The original title of the book is The Whale, which is more appropriate since there are long chapters about whaling, the sea, and the romance of it all. Perhaps the publishers thought the book would draw more readership if it focused on something sensational. They were right.

Winterlong. This story involves a white wolf spirit guide, often mistaken for a dog by those who will not see. It meets a nobleman in a castle who also has albinism. The human character is a weak, whiney individual who is instantly jealous or otherwise dismayed by the appearance of the wolf. “Oh, noooo!!” he whines, “Not another Allbiinooo!!”

Star Trek novel: In one of the Star Trek books, Mr. Spock reveals a blond haired blue eyed cousin who likes to juggle and calls himself Pete, much to the consternation of Spock.

Sent For You Yesterday by John Edgar Wideman,
(1992). The Homewood Books. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press

This book is centered around a ghetto neighborhood named Homewood in which a mysterious little boy with no name, family or background appears on the doorstep of the Tates. The boy has albinism and the family “adopts” him as their own, calling him “Brother”. This is not a true name but an apt title since the little boy becomes brother and companion to Lucy Tate, and a boy named Carl.

Throughout this book, Brother’s albinism is used as metaphor and symbol. Rather than just a medical condition. Brother is seen as a ghostly figure, appearing out of nowhere, not speaking for weeks at a time, and taking on mysterious talents that no one can explain. At one point his shoulders were described as seeming to have odd knobs on them as if there should have been wings there. Brother is neither angel, ghost nor devil: he is fully human. He is all of the former. You are left wondering if he is more of one than the other.

Please read the book through before you come to any conclusions, and please do not write the author advising him about what albinism truly is. This book is way beyond that.

The Miniature Man by R. Muer. 2006. Snowbooks

This story takes place in a sanitarium where a master mind chess player named Julian is losing his ability because of epilepsy. He becomes depressed and bitter until he meets another patient named Marcy.

Kill Whitey by Ken Harvill 2004

Whitey is a drug dealing half Caucasian half Haitian with albinism from a mobster family. Lets throw in some blond dreadlocks. (what the…?)

Blue True Dream of Sky by Meredy Maynard (Victoria, BC: Polestar Press, 1997

A story about a 14 year old with albinism named Nickie. This is an eco-novel about cutting down old growth rain forests. Nickie has a brother in a coma and an emotionally disturbed mother.

The White Dragon by Ann McCaffrey

It’s been decades since I read this book. It’s the third in a series called The Dragonriders of Pern. I didn’t read the first two books. I was only interested in this one. In this book a young Lord named Jaxom has finally gotten his turn to receive a dragon’s egg. This will be his lifelong steed and companion. When the egg finally hatches it turns out to be, to everyone’s disappointment, a runt. It is also white. In this realm dragons come in a myriad of colors, but almost never white. Dragons in this story share a strong telepathic bond with their riders; so strong that if one dies the other may fall ill, die, or in any case never outlive the emotional scars. Jaxom takes his little white dragon to training lessons where the other boys make fun. But the dragon turns out to be a strong, fast and loyal companion who takes Jaxom on some fantastic adventures.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

This is a bizarre book about a couple who find it exciting and economical to breed their own freaks for their business, a circus.  Each time the mother gets pregnant the father injects her with all sorts of home made concoctions combined with a few radio active isotopes. Then they wait to see what comes forth. They wind up with conjoined twins, a boy with flippers, and a hunchback dwarf with albinism named Olympia, who is also born with alopecia universalis (no hair anywhere).  They also have, to their dismay, a normal looking boy who has the power of telekinesis. The story is told through the eyes of Olympia who witnesses the power of her sociopathic brother who does evil things to people just because he can.

Most of Olympia’s siblings are stillborn or die soon after birth and are kept in jars. Their mother cherishes them as much as she does her living children, as each child (except the normal looking one) is considered a masterpiece and cared for by the surviving siblings.

Arty, the flipper boy develops a cult following where people cut off parts of their bodies to be like him. He also tries to increase his God status by impregnating his sisters with the help of his brother via telekinesis. In other words he does this by getting his little brother to teleport his sperm into the girls. The story continues with Olympia’s daughter who has a tail. This is truly a story about a close knit family.

Ghost Boy by Iain Lawrence. Laurel Leaf press 2002

Here is another in a seemingly endless line of books dealing with people with albinism joining the circus. 14 year old Harold can’t get a break. The real world doesn’t want him and his mother is no help. So he runs away and joins the circus where he finds friendship and acceptance with the rest of the “freaks.” Give me a break.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorapor

“I’m albino and I’ve known it all my life. I’m eight years old now. My hair is still light yellow, my skin is still the color of “sour milk,” and my eyes are still light grey-green like God ran out of the right color. And I still hate the sun, too.”

These are the words of eight-year-old Sunny who lives in Africa with her not-so-supportive family. She is tormented and bullied by other children and her own brother won’t even defend her.

Sunny speaks briefly about how the people around her believe she is of the spirit world. They may be right since Sunny is clairvoyant.

This story was originally published as a short story or first chapter called The Albino Girl.

The author introduces her book by saying the main character has a problem. What problem? The fact that she sees visions, or that she has albinism? This was not made clear to me.

I haven’t read this entire book yet but it seems intriguing. I can’t wait to read it.

The Likes of Me by Randall Beth Platt. Laurel Leaf books/Delaconte press 2000

Cordelia Hankins is half Caucasian and half Chinese. She also has albinism, and a seven foot tall mother. Unhappy and bored she runs away to – guess what? – join the circus.

The White Stag by Kate Seredy.  Viking press 1937 Still in print.

“Retells the legendary story of the Huns’ and Magyars’ long migration from Asia to Europe where they hope to find a permanent home”

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Winner of the 1991 Booker Prize for fiction.

“Shortly after birth, it became clear that Azaro was [an abiku:] a spirit child. He had vivid dreams, which foretold the future and he could see spirits interacting with the living. The spirits called to him and caused him to leave his body for a time, which caused his parents to think he was dead.”

Azaro is not an albino, but he sees them in the spirit world. These spirits continually try to lure Azaro back to their world and even try to kidnap him.

I loved this book. It’s rich in the folklore traditions of the Yoruba of Nigeria.

The spirit albinos only have a couple of short mentions in the book but It is a must read if you love intricate and timeless classics.

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

“…The Bole (bol-ey) man was coming up the road. He was tall and yellow like an amber roach. The children across the road lined up by the fence to watch him, clutching one another as he whistled and strolled past them. This albino, who’s name was Chaban (shab-ou), was the biggest lottery agent in the village. He was thought to have certain gifts that had nothing to do with the lottery, but which Tauntatee (tawn-taa-tee) believed put the spirits on his side. For example, if anyone was chasing him he could turn into a snake with one flip of his tongue. Sometimes he could see the future by looking into your eyes, unless you closed your soul to him by thinking of a religious song and prayer while in his presence. I could tell that Tauntatee was thinking of one of her favorite verses as he approached. . . . He had no eyelashes, or seemed to have none. His eyebrows were tawny and fine like corn silk, but he had a thick head of dirty red hair…”

In this passage, The Grandmother, Tauntatee freely interacts with Chabon by playing the numbers: all the while saying prayers to ward off his evil spirit. No doubt Chabon knows of these superstitions and fears but ignores the silliness of the children and the adults as he goes about his business. He is successful in what he does, but probably has to put up with certain social restrictions. Note: The description of Chabon as a roach might not have been an accident. Cockroach is the name given to us in some parts of the world. It means a creature that scurries around in the dark.

Too Black to be White and too White to be Black. Lee Edwards

“ . . .to those people who insist, I hate to disappoint you, but I am not a Creole . . .I am of African American decent. Yes, that’s right, dammit. I am a black male with a condition known as albinism.”

Lee Edwards has written his story so that all the world can know what it is like to be us. In his book Lee doesn’t ask for pity, he doesn’t paint us as heroes. He does, however, shoot from the hip. He tells it like it is, no holds barred.

At the end of the book Lee says, “The only one who understands what it’s like to be a black person with albinism is another black person with albinism.” AMEN!!

Either download or buy this book from 1stbooks and be sure to wear oven mitts when you read it.

Book review Black Albino by Namba Roy 1969

Longman press

“…Tomaso sat on his haunches with the boy Tamba standing between his knees, looking out with his strange eyes on the scene before them…”

This is a novel that centers around the Maroons: a group of slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica in the eighteenth century and set up villages and new societies. Every once in a while the Chief would lead a band of warriors down into the plantations to free slaves and bring them to the villages.

Although the Chief is loved by almost everyone, he has an enemy- his own brother- a man who sets out to destroy him at any cost. The Chief goes without an heir for a long time. When his wife finally does give birth it is to a dundus: an African word for albino meaning ghost, spirit or non-person.

This is a typical misfit turned hero story. The chief’s brother, filled with hate and jealousy takes advantage of the superstitions and ignorance of the people when the boy Tamba is born. Tamba shows however that he is a true leader and truly the son of a chief.

The book is written for junior high readers and is an easy read. The plot is tragic and the child with albinism seems to be a secondary element in the story.

From The Maroons: Slave resistance: A Caribbean Study “During the 18th century, the powerful Maroons, escaped ex-slaves who settled in the mountains of Jamaica, carved out a significant area of influence. Through the use of slave labor, the production of sugar in this British colony flourished. But the courageous resistance of the Maroons threatened this prosperous industry. These efforts included plantation raids, the killing of white militiamen, and the freeing of slaves….”

The Albino Knife by Steve Perry, 1991
Ace Books, New York

“…Albinos had been bred for beauty, originally as sexual playthings and the genes had been hardy ones. Where they were unprotected, . . . the albino population tended to be raped or murdered more than any other ethnic group in the galaxy . . . Beauty carried it’s price…”

This is part of a science fiction series called the Matador series by Steve Perry. This story is about a planet where people with albinism called Albino Exotics are genetically engineered and considered an ethnic group or race. They are all perfect in mind and body, age beautifully, and secrete an exorbitant amount of pheromones which makes everyone highly sexually aroused by their very presence. (Cool)

A Man Too White, by Gyorgy Sebestyen
1984
Ariadne Press, 1993
Translated from Hungarian
(May also go under the original title, Albino)

This book is about isolation and alienation as seen through the eyes of a young man with albinism. He is never named as he is meant to represent anyone who is a stranger in a strange land. In the case of our anti-hero that land is in his own mind. Our paranoid delusional subject sees the world as full of hostile people who are out to persecute him because of his albinism, although the facts around him show almost no proof of this. This story is told in the first person and follows our subject as he goes from his mid teens to his mid 30’s.

As we are brought into the mind of this person we must figure out what is real and what is not. We travel with him as he spirals down into calm insanity. The book has no great highs or lows. It pulls you along with anticipation that leads to anticlimaxes. But that’s the beauty of the story.

The book is full of paradoxes and double meanings. Cold makes our hero feel warm and stops his shivering. He hates someone so much that he loves her even more. Pain makes him smile and feel good. He relates to people as dead and unimportant things and to his car as a living being, using the term “we” as he drives down the street. He can see and think more clearly when things are confused or when he is very drunk.

As with most albinism metaphor in literature, our hero is scrawny and weak. The sight of his own body and thin hair makes him violently ill. Yet, he stares into mirrors until he can no longer stomach his own self. He feels that any bad luck coming his way is deserved since he is out of sync with the natural order of things.

Gyorgy Sebestyen was a refugee from Hungary and indeed was a stranger and an outsider, unable to fully acclimate to his adopted country unable to return home as it was under communist rule. I got a sense of this as I read the paranoid thoughts of our anti-hero.