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Book Name: Deafening

Author: Frances Itani

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Overall Rating: (4.33/5) View all reviews (total 9 reviews)

Set during 1915-19 in Canada, United States, England, Belgium and France, this is the story of a young woman in her 20's, Grania O' Neill (pronounced GRAW-NEE-YA, an Irish name meaning "Love"), profoundly deaf from the age of 5 as a result of scarlet fever. She marries Jim Lloyd, a hearing man who, 2 weeks after their marriage, leaves home in Ontario to serve his King and country and "do his bit for Mother England." Jim tries in every possible way to understand his wife's experience of deafness, and together they explore their love through the silence in which she lives.


Beautiful book, needs promotion

by Japan Reader

A beautiful book. So wonderfully written that savoring the words was a joy, never mind the sensitive yet powerful story. Though the topics -- deafness, World War One -- suggest a very grim work, it ends up being a powerful affirmation of life.This book deserves to be much more widely known than it is; it's an excellent example of how even good books deserve ample promotion, as I think that it's a lot better than some major recent best-sellers. I was pleased to see in a bookstore recently that it's won an award.

Language of Love

by J. Marren "jtm497"

This is a wonderful first novel about sound, silence, deafness, communication and love. Grania is a young girl who loses her hearing at the age of five. Her guilt-ridden mother refuses to accept that she is deaf and resists adapting to reality; only Grania's loving grandmother saves her from a life of illiteracy and loneliness. Grania is taught to read with "The Sunday Book," a precious gift from her grandmother that becomes a metaphor for life's struggles and complications as Grania emerges from childhood, attends school, and meets "Chim," a hearing man who loves her stillness. Just married, Grania must return home to wait while Jim goes to war as a stretcher bearer.Once again, WWI emerges as incredibly pointless and bloody, as men are thrown into the confusion of the European front. Jim experiences the war as a haze of brutal sound. He steels himself to the sight of mutilated men blown apart, but cannot stand the sight of their hands, which of course for him had become the instruments of his personal "language of love" with Grania. Meanwhile at home, a beloved friend from Grania's childhood who became her sister's husband returns home, mute from a horror no one can imagine. Drawing on the foundation of love from her grandmother, the deaf Grania not only coaches him back to speech but heals her sister as well. The end of the novel feels tantalizingly like only the beginning for these wonderful multi-dimensional characters.Itani is a wonderful writer, and manages to convey to those of us who hear what it's like not to be able to--she also shows what we the hearing might be missing! The background on the theories of language and teaching the deaf was fascinating, and Itani must have done some meticulous research. This is a wonderful novel well worth your time.

Overcoming harsh life challenges

by Lynn Adler

Set in the early decades of the 20th century through World War I in Onatrio, Canada and France, Deafening is two stories - the coming of age of young Grania struck totally deaf by scarlet fever at the age of 5, and what's like living with deafness - the second story the experience of her husband Jim in World War II France where most don't survive the battlefield, and what it's like for Grania and the other families back home.A multilayered story filled with the harsh realities of the world of the deaf and the world of the battlefield, and the compassion, love and strength of the human spirit to overcome. Itani is a wonderful writer who gets inside each of these worlds and let the reader have his and her own experience. We become involved in the lives of her characters and we feel their joys and sorrows.

Graceful and original treatment of man's oldest themes.

by Mary Whipple

In this sensitive portrayal of love and war, author Itani reveals the life of Grania O'Neill from her earliest days in Deseronto, Canada, through her marriage to Jim Lloyd, who serves in the Ambulance Corps during World War I. Grania has been deaf since the age of five, and Itani opens her inner world to the reader, using Grania's voice to tell the story and gracefully conveying her deafness as part of her selfhood, not as a handicap. Using short sentences of twelve to fifteen words when Grania is a young child trying to figure out her world, Itani begins the story in a simple subject-verb-object pattern, using no complicated clauses or involved syntax, which Grania herself would be incapable of using. When Grania becomes fluent in sign language and lip-reading, the sentence structure becomes more complex. By the time she marries Jim, a hearing man, sentences and syntax are fully developed, and Grania's ability to recognize ambiguity, to see relationships between events, and to respond fully to a hearing world are obvious in her "voice."The point of view alternates between Grania and Jim, once Jim goes off to war, and important themes--war and peace, life and death, love and friendship, and strength and dependence--weave and develop throughout their contrasting worlds, Grania at home and Jim at the front in Belgium. Itani develops these age-old themes in new ways, sensitively incorporating them with the imagery of sounds and silence, sight and shadows, action and inaction, images we have come to associate with the life Grania and Jim share. In Jim's traumatic world, sound becomes overwhelming: pounding guns, explosions, screams of agony from wounded soldiers. As a result of his life with Grania, however, he is also acutely sensitive to what he sees, discovering, ironically, that it is the hands of the dead and dying that communicate most vividly because they "revealed the final argument: clenched in anger, relaxed in acquiescence, seized in a posture of surprise or forgiveness."The subordinate characters further flesh out the themes. The friendship and interdependence of Jim and Irish, his best friend parallel the love and support Grania has received from her sister, her remarkable grandmother, and her deaf friends. Grania gains strength through them and is able to give support and strength to others when they need her, just as Jim gains strength from his relationship with Irish and continues to rescue the wounded and dying. As the reader comes to know Grania and Jim and the love they feel for each other, Grania's silent but active world becomes more and more understandable to the reader. Ultimately, the reader has to agree with Grania when she declares, ironically, "Sound is always more important to the hearing." Mary Whipple

deadening pace

by Patti "PattisPages"

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.

A tour-de-force.

by Peggy Vincent "author and reader"

This is my surprise book of the year. It was a gift, and I didn't quite know what to expect, but it's turned into a real winner.Spanning the years from 1902 till the end of WWI, we follow the life of Grania, a child/woman who became deaf following scarlet fever. From a loving middle-class family, she went to a boarding school for hundreds and hundreds of deaf children, grew into a self-sufficient young woman, became a nurse, and married a hearing man, Jim. He went off to war, as did her childhood friend and brother-in-law, Kenan. Improbably for that Great War, both men returned - but in very different conditions.Divided into several parts, the early chapters are Grania's education, learning to live as a deaf person in the world of the hearing. The next part is Jim's story of his war experience.Then comes Grania's ultimately successful efforts to return the power of speech to her mute and traumatized childhood friend. And finally the resolution of all the stories.This book grows on you. One of the boldest risks author Itani took was to try (successfully) to convey Grania's silent world to readers, and to imitate the understanding of sign language as well as lip reading for those of us unfamiliar with the Deaf World.It's a stunning and powerful book, showing the power of Story to convey love, union, and understanding - and ultimately, joy.

"Deafening"... A masterpiece!

by R. Nicholson

A great novel!This book, by Francis Itani, revolves around the world of a girl/woman who as acquired deafness through childhood illness. The setting is initially in Ontario, Canada in the late 1800's and then eventually alternating between Ontario and the European theater of World War I.I must admit I had some difficultly getting into this work, but I persevered and I'm glad I did, because this book is truly a magnificent read. Once committed, I could barely stand to put the book down.As with all great books, what makes this book special, is the quality of the writing. The prose just seemed to flow effortlessly off the pages as time melted away. You learn things about deafness, quietness and darkness that you never really noticed before; you begin to appreciate what people without hearing have to endure to get through an hour, a day or a lifetime. There were a couple of occasions in this book where I was taken aback with a new revelation regarding deafness; where I would just let this book slip to my lap and think about what I'd just read.There are parts in this book that are not for the faint of heart; some of the description of the trench warfare in France and Belgium are very graphic and disturbing. (but, most likely, accurate)All in all, a story that is quietly beautiful and at the same time beautifully sad. Really, one of my favorite books. If I had to compare it to another book for quality, beauty and heartrending appeal, then I'd pick Charles Frazier's " Cold Mountain". Both books have that intangible timeless aura to them that separate them from their peers.Highly recommended!

Sign Language

by Roger Brunyate "reader/writer/musician"

Canadian author Frances Itani had a promising idea to write about the education and early life of a girl struck deaf in infancy, as her own grandmother was at the turn of the last century. And it was an intriguing one to contrast her silent world with the cacophony of the western front in World War I. The novel that results contains interesting characters and effective passages, but it is too diffuse to really work.Grania O'Neill -- the name is an anglicization of the Irish for "love" -- loses her hearing at the age of five as a result of scarlet fever. She wakens to a world shaped and contained by words, but where language is deceptive and words have to be agonizingly relearned. She has an ally in her grandmother Mamo; the relationship between the two is the most lovely thing in the book. But I found the early chapters repetitive and could never enter fully into Grania's world. I was more interested in the relatively brief section dealing with her time at a special boarding school and the battle between the two theories of education for the deaf: sign language and the oral method.As a young adult, Grania falls in love and marries. But it is 1915, and her husband Jim goes off to war as a medical orderly. The unusual perspective makes some of the war writing quite powerful, occasionally approaching the intensity of classics such as Sebastian Faulks'BIRDSONG. And the scenes back in Canada show something even less often written about, a picture of wartime life on the home front. But the fact remains that there is an ocean between Grania and Jim, and their parallel stories barely connect. Still, a few touching episodes do manage to bridge the gap, as when one of their friends returns wounded and mute, and Grania teaches him once more to talk.This is a book that needed to dwell in language and sound, and above all in silence. It calls for an almost abstract style that can handle ideas and sensations rather than events -- poetry rather than prose. The steady narrative that Itani offers contains much that will interest and even move its readers, but for this reader at least the most exciting promises are lost.

The darkness of deafness

by Stephen A. Haines

The true test of an author is the ability to portray the mind of someone else. Recently, that ability has been stretched by writers who describe the "abnormal". The young, autistic Christopher in "Curious Incident" is the prime example. Frances Itani takes us into a different world, that of the deaf. It's a world of endless confusion. There are sounds, so easy to the hearing, but meaningless to the deaf. We think speech is the only important sound, but talk is hurried, undirected, and indistinct. Nature produces her own sounds which we use in speech, but for which there's no meaning to the deaf. Through Grania O'Brien's early life, Itani strives to introduce us to that world. Does she succeed?Grania, who would have been "Grainne" in her ancestral Ireland, lives in small-town Ontario as the story opens. Deafened by scarlet fever [remember that?], she's coached by Mamo, her grandmother. Blessed with a quick eye for lip-reading, Grania is given a book with words displayed as rope. The rope, of course, becomes highly symbolic as the book progresses, but Grania begins to equate the shapes with meaning. Mamo strains to have the girl equate printed words with proper sounds. It's important that Grania "blend in" with the rest of the community. With her parents running a hotel, Grania's only other tie is with her sister Tress, with whom she develops a secret sign language.All of Mamo's dedicated effort, nor trips to sacred shrines, can't force the pace. Grania is to leave home for a "Deaf School". Itani portrays the school as staffed with immensely caring ladies. No Dickens intrudes with harsh discipline or abuse, but the school draws children from across the Province. All the children remain in school until the summer holidays. Sign language is discouraged for those who can speak - dividing the children, some of whom are mute. Itani passes rapidly over Grania's progress in the school. The deaf girl, however, manages to shed some of her fear of the dark - a long-held terror.Meeting a young aide in a hospital after leaving the school, Grania's life takes a new turn. The courtship is but a moment in the story - the wedding description not even related until much later in the book. Instead, the Kaiser rudely intrudes on their lives with the invasion of Belgium. Itani carefully rejects any political discussion in the narrative. King and Country [Britain, not Canada] are under threat and Jim must sign up. There's no family discussion, no question of how Irish immigrants in a far land should react - Jim crosses the Atlantic. There's a training stint, then Jim finds himself in the thick of battle. When time and circumstances permit, letters are scribbled in muddy trenches. Sometimes Grania's reach Jim, but delays in the exchanges make communication a flimsy thread.Itani makes a splendid effort to depict the impact of the Great War. Confronted as we are today by daily images of conflict, Itani still manages to impart a special sense of horror at events. The years pass with Jim, a stretcher-bearer, braving the bombardments and fusillades of machine-gun fire, without being able to fight back. He carries wounded, tends their injuries, dodges fire and grows increasingly introspective. Never once, does he question the worth of the conflict. At home in Desoronto, Grania watches the causality lists, the statistics of insanity, lengthen while she worries. Soldier's wives need more visibility and Itani's effort is commendable.This book cries out for a sequel. Grania's life hardly ends with the Armistice. With the end of the War, her deafness remains, the family is almost intact and a future must unroll. Itani has built a unique scenario with skillful prose. You will not find it easy to put this book down as you read. However, when you do finish, you will find the conclusion abrupt. Nothing is lost by that finale, but there might be much gained by going on. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

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