by Frances Itani
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Deafening by Frances Itani

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.

Jim is trained as a stretcher-bearer in one of the large camps on the southeast coast of England. He serves in Belgium and France with Number 9 Canadian Field Ambulance. His war experiences, friendships, and care of the dying and wounded during this brutal war of attrition, are moving, intimately detailed and carefully researched to show the realities of the life of a stretcher bearer serving in the front lines.

On the home front, Grania’s childhood in a small town on the edge of Lake Ontario, where her father owns a hotel; and as a residential student at “The Institution for the Deaf and Dumb” in a small Ontario city. A bright child, she has to learn “real” sign language (which replaces the private language she and her sister had, as small children, invented). She also learns, by necessity, extreme self-discipline and control over her emotions, which enables her to survive the trauma of leaving home and the facts of institutional life with 300 other deaf children around her. No visits home are permitted during the school year.

Grania’s Mother, guilt-ridden and never accepting of Grania’s deafness, tries to make Grania hear. She tries for cures by miracle, and by taking her to Rochester, New York, in hopes of finding specialized medical treatment.

Grania’s early experiences inside her own silence and within a family that tries to overprotect—despite her gradually developing independence and strengths—later illuminate the complexity of her adult relationships: with her closest deaf friend, Fry; with her older sister Tress—who was once her lifeline; with her Irish Grandmother, “Mamo” (the most important person in her life at home and the one who teaches her to read and to speak, and whose love twice—in separate ways—saves Grania’s life); with her 2 brothers; and with her parents.

After Jim departs for the war, both Grania and her sister move back to their parents’ home and hotel, where everyone in the family helps out with the hotel business.

The tension in the book is held through the juxtaposition of two worlds: the world of war, violence and sound as shown through Jim’s horrific experiences at the Front (which include several major battles); and life for Grania inside the silence of her own world during the long years of waiting on the home front—where news is frequently bad as more and more local boys are reported killed in the war.

Grania’s brother-in-law, Kenan, returns from the war in early 1918. He is wounded and mutilated and has stopped speaking. It is Grania who, with her extensive speech training recalled from residential schooldays, makes the breakthrough to Kenan’s speech. But this success creates resentment in her sister because Kenan is not able to confide or share his war experience with his young wife.

Events move quickly toward resolution as first, Spanish flu sweeps through the town ( a deadly pandemic), followed by Armistice (Nov 1918) and eventual demobilization. A moving sequence of events with her sister releases tensions between Grania and Tress. The loss of Mamo finally leads to the release of emotions Grania has never permitted herself to express.

In the spring of 1919, Jim returns home. He and Grania have survived, but their separate experiences have altered them forever. Jim has been part of events that “the mind will gorge upon in horror forever.” He has lost his closest friend from the war, a man who has been a brother to him. But it is his love for Grania that has kept him going.

Grania realizes, the instant she sees Jim, that neither of them will ever totally understand what the other has been through. Together they accept the realization that, in context of their love for each other, not understanding, not knowing, will have to be enough to move them forward.

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: 289,741
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Deafening marks Frances Itani’s American debut. Published previously only in Canada, Frances Itani is the author of four acclaimed short story collections, published poetry, a children’s book and has written stories, drama and features for CBC Radio. Passionate about learning and education, she has taught creative writing at universities, schools, libraries and workshops across Canada and in Europe and holds a BA in Psychology, an MA in English Literature, and did a graduate year of nursing. She has been learning American Sign Language (ASL), and practices Tai Chi and Qigong. She has been involved in humanitarian work all of her adult life, most recently as a volunteer and on the Board of Directors of the Ottawa Deaf Centre.

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Deafening 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you liked All the Light You Cannot See you will love this incredible book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent!!!  Wonderful story.  Great historical fiction.  Highly recommended!!!  I learned a lot about being deaf during the early 1900s as well as information about WW One!  Characters were fully developed and interesting.  I really cared about what was happening to them during this trying time.  I have just purchased any book by this author on my NOOK!  Another well-written historical fiction is The Partisan by William Jarvis.  This outstanding book just won an Indie Medalian Award.  Both books deserve an A+++++++
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Felt more like a teaching lesson than a novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Life is a complicated thing one can describe. People cannot easily accept the physically disadvantaged, and it leads to utter frustration. This book by Francis Itani touched my heart, as it is the first of a kind I have come across in my life. I must admit it that I have been very eager to read the lives of the deaf community, other than Helen Keller, Thomas Edison and Beethoven. But this book, Deafening gives the true insight of the lives of Grania and Jim, and how they created their own ways to communicate - its a very sweet and romantic thing to do together. Deafening is just magnificent with its beautiful expressions and thoughts that come straight from the heart, and though it is sad to know about Grania's condition, there is not a trace of sympathy she expected from the people around her, which shows her grit and confidence. Never in my life could I imagine a deaf individual living with a hearing individual ~ its not impossible, but looks pretty unrealistic. I appeal to readers to help the physically disadvantaged as much as possible, and never let them feel socially cut-off in any situation. The world is definitely cruel, but people should show little consideration, as it would do them good too. My final word - 'Break the barriers and build the bonds'...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Deafening is a treasure. Itani conveys Grania¿s story so closely and carefully to her reader. Grania is a character I will always remember for her intelligence, her courage, and her ability to overcome. Itani does an admirable job illustrating the relationship dynamics between Grania and her family members and friends. I was moved by Itani's rendition of how Grania¿s mother, father and grandmother all dealt with her hearing loss. The human element is always apparent: anger, denial and acceptance. Itani brings to life Grania and her story.