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Deafeningby Frances Itani
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"[Itani's] wonderfully felt novel is a timely reminder of war's cost, told from an unexpected perspective." Publishers Weekly
"Deafening is a classically shaped exploration of love and war and the possibilities of language. It is a story for all time." Portland Oregonian
"Itani has written a moving first novel that expresses in human terms the healing power of language and the unspeakable horrors of war." Boston Globe
"There's not a single false gesture in Frances Itani's Deafening. Despite its subjects...it's a story of careful, measured emotion, bleached of all sentimentality." Christian Science Monitor
"Itani never loses control of her tricky material: the result is an artistic triumph." Kirkus Reviews
Set during 1915-19 in Canada, United States, England, Belgium and France, this is the story of a young woman in her 20s, 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 wifes 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, Granias 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.
Granias Mother, guilt-ridden and never accepting of Granias 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.
Granias 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 Granias 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 Jims 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.
Granias 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 Kenans 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.
About the Author
Frances Itani is the author of four acclaimed short-story collections and has written stories, drama, poetry, and features for CBC Radio. She is a two-time winner of the Tilden (CBC/ Saturday Night) Literary Award, and the recipient of Canadian Fiction Magazine's Best Short Story Award. Deafening, which is being published in thirteen countries, is her American debut. The novel was written as a tribute to Itani's grandmother, who was deaf from the age of eighteen months as a result of scarlet fever. Itani divides her time between Ottawa, Canada, and Geneva, Switzerland.
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