Wednesday, January 26, 2011

DEAFENING by Frances Itani

The title may be Deafening, but the book is anything but. It's very quiet—too quiet. As we try to inhabit the life and mind of Grania, deaf since the age of five from scarlet fever, we imagine what it would be like not to know when someone is approaching from behind, or to know when the speaker has changed in a conversation. This book was just too slow-paced for me and the characters too one-dimensional. Grania and her hearing husband Jim seem to be without fault. More complex is Grania's sister Tress, who struggles with her emotions when her husband comes back from WWI disfigured and dysfunctional. Another interesting character is their mother, who postpones sending Grania to a school for the deaf as long as possible, while she battles her guilt over Grania's hearing loss and seeks a cure via specialists and spiritual quests. However, the author doesn't fully explore the inner conflicts of Tress or her mother, and we are left with a love story between two very nice people. Jim's story is more disturbing than Grania's, actually, as he becomes a stretcher bearer during the war and sees both friends and patients blown up inches away from him on a regular basis. His sections of the book are very moving reminders that the lives lost in wars are not just statistics. The most moving and ironic incident is Jim's wordless interaction with a German counterpart as they both struggle to rescue their wounded on the battlefield.

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