Deafening by Frances Itani
Full disclaimers: this is an adult book so it’s a little out of the norm for me, but in the name of being well rounded or something, I read it on the recommendation of my mother and it was beautiful.
Grania lost her hearing when she was very young after scarlet fever. Her childhood is happy, if silent, mostly because of the way her live is woven together with her family, particularly Mamo her grandmother and Tress her sister. With her family around her she navigates the hearing world by lip reading, some voice and a homemade version of sign language. But when she is nine years old, she’s sent away to a special school in Belleville, where deaf children learn not just to communicate but also the skills they will need to find good jobs.
Years later Grania meets, falls in love with and marries Jim, a hearing man. Despite the difficulties they face because of Grania’s disability, nothing is as terrible as Jim leaving to fight in the First World War. Oceans apart, both face the terrible cost of war.
To me, this story is about love, grief and the way we talk to the people we love. The love and grief are quite closely linked. Grania is witness to her sister, her mother and her grandmothers’ tragic marriage. Tress’s husband’s terrible maiming in the war pulls them further apart even then his death would have done. Her mother’s marriage to her father has simply turned stale as time as passed them, leaving both feeling lonely and isolated even when they are together. Mamo’s husband died the crossing from Ireland and was buried at sea, Mamo and her eldest daughter forced to continue on with the rest of her children. As each relationship comes upon something that cannot be overcome, Grania and Jim maintain their feelings for each other, despite the trauma Jim has endured, their closeness despite the distance and both overcome their struggles and find their way home.
Through all of this, there is great loss both to the war and the Spanish flu and the characters all flail n the face of the crippling agony of grief, each one seeking relief from their pain, through drinking or withdrawing or turning off or smashing broken plates but still there is some grief that is too big to live through, Mamo says often.
And underpinning all of this is the language of love and pain. Because Grania’s unique situation, her view of communication is totally different then other peoples. She sees talking as more like breathing, more like shapes and in her silent world lips alone make meaning. Her voice is a thing both part of her and not, so when she uses it she always has something worth hearing. Letters, the life line between Canada and the war, are both sacred and corruptible because they are all that Grania has to send to Jim but every time feels like a hope only, never a certainty – the boat could sink, it could get lost, Jim could die before they reached him, it’s all a risk to her. The most beautiful and profound way Jim and Grania communicate is through their own hand signals, through their breathing and be revealing their most intimate thoughts to each other. The writing is incredible beautiful and in a world where we can exchange words constantly but rarely ever communicate the story is very poignant.
It also won a whole bunch of Canadian literary awards, which it completely deserves, at least in my mind. A beautiful story about a terrible time.
Last movie I watched:
Contracted. I thought it was stupid. I mean, it’s a horror movie and it was pretty horrible. But the story was stupid, senseless and from a feminist angle completely awful.
Last TV episode I watched:
Downton Abby. Sybil, oh Sybil.