Monday, October 6, 2014

The Fall, Diogo Mainardi

I love it when a talented writer expresses common feelings and experiences in ways that those of us who are less articulate can relate to and empathize with.  Brazilian novelist Diogo Mainardi's first child was born in Venice.  Due to a rather flagrant misjudgment by the delivering physician, he had difficulties in delivery and ended up with cerebral palsy.  The Fall: A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps chronicles Mainardi's walking with Tito.  It is a architectural tour of Venice, a literary and musical tour, and includes stories of other well-known writers with cerebral palsy.  Mostly, and most importantly, it is a revelation of Mainardi's heart and his love for Tito.

Like any parent of a child with a disability, Mainardi looks for a reason or somewhere to place the blame.  In Tito's case, the blame was clear.  "A medical mistake cause his cerebral palsy. . . .  The system, with its rules, regulations and procedures, failed--failed repeatedly--during Tito's birth."  But reviewing the history of the hospital, the city, his own family, and tiny choices made by various individuals along the way, it's more complicated than that: "I blame Tito's cerebral palsy on Pietro Lombardo, John Ruskin, Napoleon Bonaparte, an amnihook, and lastly, on the bigne allo spurmone di zabaione made by the patisserie Rosa Salva."  (The Mainardi family did eventually win a large suit against the doctor and the hospital.  I presume the Napoleon and the patisserie were not named in the suit.)

Much of The Fall is about Tito's efforts to walk.  He and Mainardi would set out to walk, counting steps until Tito falls, then start again.  Mainardi writes, "The greatest obstacle to a child with cerebral palsy is the impossibility of discovering the world around him."  Mainardi's efforts to remove that obstacle are admirable.  Tito loved to walk on the beach in Rio, where they moved after a doctor recommended a warmer climate for Tito, and on the ramps and sidewalks of Venice.  Mainardi writes that, especially for Tito, the city council left in place ramps on the bridges that were installed for the Venice Marathon.

The Fall tells a story that every parent can relate to, especially parents of children with disabilities.  Mainardi quotes Francesca Martinez, a comedian who has cerebral palsy, who said, "That's the huge secret about disability--anyone with experience of it knows that a disabled person is just a person they love."  As Mainardi celebrates and adores his son, even celebrating every fall, marking it down as progress to take more steps, I was reminded to celebrate and adore my own children, disabled or not.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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