Cover image for Twilight : losing sight, gaining insight
Twilight : losing sight, gaining insight
Grunwald, Henry A. (Henry Anatole)
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
ix, 130 pages ; 20 cm
Format :


Call Number
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PN4874.G79 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In 1992, when Henry Grunwald missed a glass into which he was pouring water, he assumed that he needed new eyeglasses, not that the incident was a harbinger of darker times. But in fact Grunwald was entering the early stages of macular degeneration -- a gradual loss of sight that affects almost 15 million Americans yet remains poorly understood and is, so far, incurable. Now, in Twilight, Grunwald chronicles his experience of disability: the clouding of his sight, and the daily struggle to overcome its physical and psychological implications; the discovery of what medicine can and cannot do to restore sight; his compulsion to understand how the eye works, its evolution, and its symbolic meaning in culture and art. Grunwald gives us an autobiography of the eye -- his visual awakening as a child and young man, and again as an older man who, facing the loss of sight, feels a growing wonder at the most ordinary acts of seeing. This is a story not merely about seeing but about living; not merely about losing sight but about gaining insight. It is a remarkable meditation.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Grunwald's first book in retirement (One Man's America: A Journalist's Search for the Heart of His Country, 1997) surveyed the world he covered--as copyboy, reporter, editor, and editor in chief of Timeafter coming to the U.S. from Austria in 1940. Twilight is at once a smaller and a more affecting narrative: the journalist's reflections on the fading of his personal light due to macular degeneration. Grunwald grasps the irony: that he, whose life has revolved around words, should be able to read only with difficulty and high-tech assistance. Grunwald's condition was diagnosed in 1992; he's had time to accept, reluctantly, the limitations he faces and to explore his disease and a range of related topics, from the history of medical treatment of the eye to the mythology surrounding that easily taken-for-granted organ. Thus Twilight is a personal narrative of an active person forced to accommodate a disabling condition, with facts about the condition and its treatment as well as discourse on the symbolic and cultural meanings of sight and insight. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Described by the author as "an autobiography of my eyes," this engrossing meditationÄwhich will be of particular interest to those with failing eyesightÄreveals what sight means to him. Since he was diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1992, Grunwald (One Man's America), who was formerly editor-in-chief of Time magazine and the U.S. ambassador to Austria, has been learning how to live with serious visual impairment. Despite some laser surgery, the vision in both of his eyes has continued to deteriorate. Although Grunwald can still identify buildings, people and such natural events as sunrises, he now sees through a "half-veiled" haze and is no longer able to enjoy art museums or to recognize the faces of close friends. He reminisces about images that have been important to him, such as nursery wallpaper and particular colors, and the pleasure he has derived from looking at women's faces. As someone who has been a prodigious reader, Grunwald has had to make a radical readjustment: he listens to recorded books, dictates what he would have formerly written and enlists his wife to read to him on a daily basis. He has visited the Lighthouse in New York City in order to keep up with the latest visual aids and to discuss with a therapist the depression resulting from his vision loss. Although he now accepts his condition, he is not resigned to it: he has thus far refused to learn Braille even though such a skill would be useful to him, because he believes that it implies total blindness, a possibility he struggles against. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In 1992, Grunwald, author of One Man's America, former editor-in-chief of Time, and former U.S. ambassador to Austria, went for an eye examination and learned that he was going blind. He was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). One of the least understood eye diseases and not reliably identified until the 1970s, AMD afflicts an estimated 15 million Americans and is the most common cause of irreversible, mostly untreatable, vision loss. As Grunwald's outward view dimmed, he looked inward, reflecting on his life and the sense of loss he experienced as his vision failed. He writes about how things will never be the same for him as when he was fully sighted, but he explains how he has learned to cope with near-blindness. Grunwald concludes that in learning to live with the afflictions that make life difficult, we are actually experiencing living. We emerge stronger for having struggled and finally overcome the obstacles life presents. Grunwald's reflective meditation may help others put their lives in perspective. For public libraries.ÄJames Swanton, Harlem Hosp. Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



In the primordial ocean, a tiny organism stirs. It is covered with a light-sensitive pigment, an eyespot, that seeks the sun and turns the organism toward it. The act is not seeing, but the precursor of seeing. It is part of the fundamental impulse in all living things to reach for light, part of the indomitable will to see. I stand at the edge of the ocean and I think of those eyespots and of the single-cell creatures that, eons ago, began the miraculous process of sight. I, too, strain to see -- to see the waves, the sand, the shells and seaweed and debris that wash ashore. My eyes are animated by the same impulse, the same will to see. But my eyes don't work, at least not fully, because they are blocked by disease. The scene around me appears through a kind of curtain, a haze. If I bend down, I will have a hard time telling a stone apart from a shell, a coin from a piece of sea glass. If I were to pick up a discarded newspaper, I would not be able to read it. During a lifetime as a writer and editor, reading newspapers -- or news in any form -- had been a natural and indispensable part of myself. My existence seemed to be wrapped in the printed word. No longer. Until the onset of my disease, I was literally unaware of my eyes, with the occasional trivial exception of needing new glasses or having somebody extricate a speck of dust. Now I am aware of my eyes almost constantly. I imagine them as distinct globes inside my head. I try to visualize the intricate vessels and veins and conduits in these globes. I think of their fragility but also of their power. In medicine as well as in romantic poetry, it is the heart that is the center and controlling mechanics of life. If the heart stops, life stops. The loss of sight doesn't not mean death. Yet for ages, the eyes was believed to contain a human being's vital essence -- a not wholly irrational belief. For those of us who are born with the ability to see, sight determines most of what we know about the world, what we enjoy, and what and whom we love. That is surely one reason why in the mythology of almost every culture the eve plays a dominant part. My years with failing vision have prompted me to learn about the nature of the eye and the incredible gift of sight, which I had always taken for granted until it began to slip away. But I also leaned about living within limits and overcoming disability. This, then, is not merely a story about seeing but also about living. It is a story not merely about losing sight but about gaining insight as well. In 1992, my wife, Louise, and I rented a villa outside Florence. The light in the house was inadequate, especially in the gloomy, rainy weather of that October; the twenty-five-watt bulbs in the pseudoelegant scones reminded me of those notoriously underlit Russian hotel rooms. One afternoon, I picked up a carafe from a side table in a particularly dark corner to pour water into a glass. I missed the glass. I inveighed against the landlord, who, I thought, was trying to save electricity with those weak lightbulbs, but I suspected that I might need new glasses. Back in New York , quite unconcerned, I dropped in on the nearest optician. In a darkened cubicle, he took me through the usual eye test. I have worn glasses ever since I was a teenager. Using both eyes, I read the chart without difficulty, but when my right eye was covered and I looked only through my left, I saw virtually nothing. My right eye, on the other hand, was close to normal and, as I realized later, saw for both. The optician seemed embarrassed, and he took me through the test again. The result was the same. "I think you had better see an eye doctor," he said. Still not too alarmed, I did just that and was told that I was suffering from something called macular degeneration. I did not know what macular meant, but I soon learned that the word derives from macula (Latin for "spot") and refers to a tiny area in the retina. As for degeneration the term was extremely depressing, with its overtones of moral decay. I had never heard of the disease. It is formally known as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, because most sufferers are over fifty. It is one of the least understood eye problems, not having been reliably identified until the 1970s. To one degree or another, it afflicts an estimated 15 million Americans and will beset millions more in the future. It is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss in the world, yet its origins are unknown. . . . We have become accustomed to medical marvels: organ transplants, heart bypass operations, hip replacement. Concerning the eye, I knew about cornea transplants, cataract removals, treatments for glaucoma and other disorders that in the past had often led to blindness. I did not yet know how serious the effect of this disease could be, and I naturally assumed that it was treatable. But I was shocked to learn that it really wasn't -- at least not with lasting effect. No comparable marvels had been devised for macular degeneration. I was outraged. Now I really started to worry. Excerpted from Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight by Henry Grunwald All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.