Book Review: Deafening
Updated: May 16, 2022
Even if you cannot hear with your ears, you can hear the message of hope in the face of trials! The sounds of war can be deafening, but not to Grania.
Author: Frances Itani
Publisher: Phyllis Bruce Books, 2003
Genres: historical fiction, romance
Themes: illness, disability, WW1
This debut novel won a Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was selected for CBC's Canada Reads. Frances Itani states the novel is about love and hope, despite loss, sickness, war and devastation.
A fiction story of Grania, daughter of Irish immigrants in a small town in Ontario. who lost her hearing at age five due to scarlet fever. The story shows how different people react to illness and disability, whether it is caused by sickness or by war. It was interesting that the same educational techniques that helped Grania learn to speak were used to help the disabled war veteran learn to speak. At times, the themes and descriptions of the deaf world and the horrors of the war overtook the plot or actions of Grania or Jim. Very little time was spent on why or how Jim and Grania fell in love. The goal of the main character was simply to survive in the face of disability and war.
There is a nice contrast between Grania's mother, who refuses to believe Grania will remain deaf and prays for a miracle to restore Grania's hearing; and Grania's grandmother, whose acceptance of Grania's deafness allows her to take practical steps to teach reading and speaking to Grania. It is the grandmother's efforts that save Grania's ability to communicate and build relationships with others. I believe this shows that we need to be active in taking steps to improve our lives. The author depicts the dilemma between living in the deaf world and using sign language for hearing and speaking vs. living in the hearing world and pretending not to be deaf by learning lip-reading and speaking vocally. Grania's mother feels guilty about her daughter becoming deaf, and resists accepting permanent deafness because it may mean accepting permanent guilt. Finally, near the end, Grania's mother uses sign language, indicating that she accepts Grania as she is, no longer wishing for her to become hearing.
Excellent research provides insights into the world of the deaf, and their struggles to be accepted as human beings equally as capable of contributing as those who can hear. The story effectively shows how Grania is able to live independently and should give hope to others who are disabled or who want to facilitate independence for those they love. Very descriptive of small-town Canada in the early 1900s, and in Europe in WW1.
Grania's character and her relationships are well developed, showing both strengths and weaknesses. Excellent depiction of deaf culture.
Extensive details of the setting, culture, illnesses, minor characters, and the war slowed the pace of the action and made the book longer than necessary for the plot.