After being told disease would destroy her vision, Paola Peretti wrote a children’s novel – and found a template for life

Paola Peretti is losing her eyesight and she wouldn’t have it any other way. When she was 14, she became very short-sighted, virtually overnight. Three years later came the diagnosis of Stargardt macular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that destroys central vision, damages colour perception and results in blindness. Two years ago, finding herself in a place of both “desperation and hope,” the 32-year-old Italian language teacher and debut novelist decided to step out from the shadow of her hereditary condition, which she only ever aired with her family, and confront her fear of the dark.

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree is the result: a captivating, wise and highly visual children’s novel about living in the face of fear. Its heroine, nine-year-old Mafalda, also has Stargardt disease. A bewitching, brave little girl, she will lose her sight completely within six months, as Peretti was expecting to do at some unspecified point in her own life when she began the novel.

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