Deafening

Deafening

4.3 6
by Frances Itani
     
 

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Frances Itani's lauded and award-winning American debut novel has been sold in sixteen countries, was a Canadian best seller for sixteen weeks, reaching #1, and has been awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize Best Book Award for the Caribbean and Canadian Region. Set on the eve of the Great War, Deafening is a tale of remarkable virtuosity and power.
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Overview


Frances Itani's lauded and award-winning American debut novel has been sold in sixteen countries, was a Canadian best seller for sixteen weeks, reaching #1, and has been awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize Best Book Award for the Caribbean and Canadian Region. Set on the eve of the Great War, Deafening is a tale of remarkable virtuosity and power.
At the age of five, Grania emerges from a bout of scarlet fever profoundly deaf, and is suddenly sealed off from the world that was just beginning to open for her. Sent to the Ontario School for the Deaf, Grania must learn to live away from her family. When Grania falls in love with Jim Lloyd, a young hearing man, her life seems complete, but WWI soon tears them apart when Jim is sent to the battlefields of Flanders. During this long and brutal war of attrition, Jim and Grania's letters back and forth-both real and imagined-attempt to sustain the intimacy they discovered in Canada.
A magnificent tale of love and war, Deafening is also an ode to language-how it can console, imprison, and liberate, and how it alone can bridge vast chasms of geography and experience.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
...[D]espite all the pleasures Itani is able to deliver, her decision to split the book into Grania's and Jim's chapters ends up causing a fatal falling-off in momentum. It is as if three books -- one concerning Grania's childhood, another concerning her life on the home front and the third detailing Jim's army experience -- were uneasily trying to coexist within one cover. The conversation Itani is able to create among these three narratives is insufficient to the task of calling them into unity. Though Deafening flows admirably in the early going, it ends up being more memorable for its failures than for this early success. — Mark Baechtel
Publishers Weekly
War and deafness are the twin themes of this psychologically rich, impeccably crafted debut novel set during WWI. Born in the late 19th century, Grania O'Neill comes from solid middle-class stock, her father a hotel owner in Deseronto, Ontario, her mother a God-fearing daughter of an Irish immigrant. When Grania is five, she loses her hearing to scarlet fever. When she is nine, she is sent to the Ontario Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Belleville and given an education not only in lipreading, signing and speaking but also in emotional self-sufficiency. After graduating, she works as a nurse in the Belleville hospital, where she meets and falls in love with Jim Lloyd. They marry, but Jim is bound for the war as a stretcher bearer. His war is hell on earth: lurid wounds; stinks; sudden, endless slaughter redeemed only by comradeship. Itani's remarkably vivid, unflinching descriptions of his ordeal tend to overshadow Grania's musings on the home front, but Grania's story comes to the fore again when her brother-in-law and childhood friend, Kenan, comes back to Deseronto from the trenches in Europe with a dead arm and a half-smashed face, refusing to speak. Grania, who was educated to configure sounds she couldn't hear into words that "the hearing" could understand, brings Kenan back to life by teaching him sounds again, and then by making portraits of the people in the town whom she, Kenan and her sister Tress know in common. As she talks to Kenan, she reinvigorates him with a sense that his life, having had such a rich past, must have a future, too. This subplot eloquently expresses Itani's evident, pervasive faith in the unexpected power of story to not only represent life but to enact itself within lives. Her wonderfully felt novel is a timely reminder of war's cost, told from an unexpected perspective. (Sept.) Forecast: Itani's first novel is reminiscent of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy and has a good chance of striking a similar popular chord, backed up by a 100,000 first printing, $100,000 promo budget and a 17-city author tour. Foreign rights sold in 12 countries. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Scarlet fever robs Grania O'Neill of her hearing when she is five years old. After learning to sign and read lips, she is sent, at nine, to the Ontario School for the Deaf. Determined to make a life for herself without becoming a burden to her family, Grania works at the school hospital after graduation until she meets and marries Jim Lloyd. Shortly after their wedding, he heads off to the Great War as a stretcher bearer. Award-winning Canadian writer Itani does a good job of presenting her considerable research into education for the hearing-impaired in the early 20th century, small-town Canadian life, and World War I trench warfare, without allowing the details to overshadow what is essentially a character study and romance. Lorraine Hamelin reads with both sensitivity and humor and handles Grania's dialog well, making it sound realistic and intelligible. Sections of Deafening could easily have come across as too sentimental or too grim, but Hamelin keeps the emotional elements under control. Recommended for all collections.-Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An impressively daring first novel from Canada-storywriter Itani's US debut-immerses us in both the world of the deaf and the world of WWI trench warfare. Grania O'Neill is a lucky little girl. Even though her scarlet fever brings on incurable deafness, she is encircled by her family's love. Yes, she is smart and strong-willed, but it is the love of grandmother Mamo and big sister Tress that pulls her through (Mother's love is obstructed by guilt). It's a new century; this family of Irish immigrants owns a hotel in a small Canadian company town on Lake Ontario. The practical Mamo becomes Grania's mentor, but realizes that Grania must leave the charmed circle to attend a boarding school for the deaf. Institutional life has Grania crying for two weeks until she takes control. We learn along with her: how words can be felt; how to concentrate on whatever moves; how to "look for the information" by developing "an extra eye." Grania stays on after graduation, working in the school hospital, where she meets Jim Lloyd. The attraction between deaf and hearing person is immediate. Even though Jim will soon be headed over there (it's 1915), the two decide on marriage, a wedding blessed by Mamo. At the front in Belgium, Jim is a stretcher-bearer. We tumble into a pit of horrors. The noise is relentless. Some of the boys, though uninjured, will become deaf. They work together with the enemy in No Man's Land, soundlessly, miming their search for the wounded. Artful links, these, to Grania's odyssey, which could have been overwhelmed by the frontline gore. There is grim news on the home front, too, as Grania nearly succumbs to the great influenza epidemic of 1918; Mamo sacrifices her own life to saveher. Jim returns home unharmed, but with "old eyes." Husband and wife embody Itani's theme: the power and reach of love-love that falters only in the face of the unknowable. Itani never loses control of her tricky material: the result is an artistic triumph. First printing of 100,000; $100,000 ad/promo; author tour. Agent: Jackie Kaiser/Westwood Creative Artists

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781555846541
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
12/01/2007
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
370,642
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

"Go to my room." Mamo is pointing to the floor above. "Bring the package on my bureau."

Grania watches her grandmother's lips. She understands, pushes aside the heavy tapestry curtain that keeps the draught from blowing up the stairs, and runs up to the landing. She pauses long enough to glance through the only window in the house that is shaped like a porthole, even though it's at the back of the house and looks over land, not water. She peers down into the backyard, sees the leaning fence, the paddock and, over to the right, the drive sheds behind Father's hotel. Far to the left, over the top of the houses on Mill Street, she can see a rectangle of field that stretches in the opposite direction, towards the western edge of town. A forked tree casts a long double shadow that has begun its corner-to-corner afternoon slide across the field. Remembering her errand, Grania pulls back, runs to Mamo's room, finds the package tied up in a square of blue cloth and carries it, wrapped, to the parlour. Mamo pulls a low chair over beside her rocker. Her rocker moves with her, out to the veranda, back to the parlour, out to the veranda again.

"Sit here," her lips say.

Grania watches. Her fingers have already probed the package on the way down the stairs, and she knows it is a book. At a nod from Mamo she unties the knot and folds back the cloth. The first thing she sees on the cover is a word, a word picture. The word is made of yellow rope and twines its way across the deck of a ship where a bearded captain steers and a barefoot boy sits on a rough bench beside him. The boy is reading a book that is identical to the one in Grania's hands-it has the same cover. The sea and sky and sails in the background are soft blues and creams and browns.

Grania knows the rope letters because, after the scarlet fever, she relearned the alphabet with Mamo. The yellow letters curve and twist in a six-letter shape.

"Sunday," Mamo says. "The title of the book is Sunday, but you may keep the book in your room and look at it any time you want. Every day, we will choose a page and you will learn the words under the picture. Yes?" Eyebrows up. A question.

The book is for her. This she understands. Yes. Her fingers roam the cover but she has to be still or she will give Mamo the fidgets.

"There are many words in the book," Mamo says. "So many words." She taps her fingertips against the cover. "Some day, you will know them all." She mutters to herself, "If you can say a word, you can use it," not knowing how much Grania has understood. "We will do this, word by word-until your parents make up their minds to do something about your schooling. You've already lost one year, and a valuable part of another."

Mamo's finger points at the book and her eyes give the go-ahead flicker. Grania opens the stiff cover and turns the blank sheet that follows. The word Sunday is on the inside, too, but this time its letters are dark and made of twigs instead of yellow rope. The page that follows the twigs is in colour.

A brown-and-white calf has stopped on a grassy path and is staring at a girl. The girl is approaching from the opposite direction. She seems to be the same size and age as Grania; she might be seven or eight. Only the back of her can be seen-blue dress, black stockings, black shoes. Her hat, daisies tumbling from the crown, droops from one hand. A doll wearing a red dress dangles limply from the other. The doll's hair is as red as Grania's. No one in the picture is moving. The calf looks too startled to lift a hoof.

Grania points to two words beneath the picture and looks at Mamo's mouth.

"'BOTH AFRAID,'" Mamo reads.

The first sound erupts from Grania's lips. "BO," she says. "BO."

Mamo makes the TH shape with her tongue. "BO-TH."

Grania tries over and over, watching Mamo's lips. TH is not so easy. She already knows AFRAID. Afraid is what she is every night in the dark.

"Practise," Mamo tells her. She lifts herself out of the rocker, leaving behind the scent of Canada Bouquet, the perfume she chose because of its name and because she chose this country and because of the stench of the ship she left behind many years ago, and because Mr. Eaton sends the perfume from his mail-order catalogue in tiny bottles that cost forty-one cents. The air flutters like a rag as she walks away.

Grania breathes deeply, inhaling the scent. She sniffs the closed book and squeezes it to her as if it might get away. Both and afraid roll together, thick and half-new on her tongue. She runs upstairs to the room she shares with her older sister. Tress is stretched out reading her own book, The Faeries. Sometimes, Mamo and Tress read aloud to each other, after Tress walks home from school. Grania watches their lips, but she doesn't know the stories.

"Say," Grania says to Tress. She points to the words beneath the picture. "Say in my ear."

Tress's glance takes in the new book. She knows it is a gift from Mamo. "What's the use?" she says. "You won't hear." She shakes her head, No.

"Shout," says Grania.

"You still won't hear."

"Shout in my ear." She narrows her voice so that Tress will understand that she is not going to go away. She turns her head to the side and feels Tress's cupped hands and two explosive puffs of air.

Tress listens as Grania practises, "BOTHAFRAID BOTHAFRAID BOTHAFRAID."

"Pretty good," her mouth says. She shrugs and goes back to The Faeries. ©2003 by Frances Itani. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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