Synopses & Reviews
By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlbergs memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents—and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.
“Does sound have rhythm?” my father asked. “Does it rise and fall like the ocean? Does it come and go like the wind?”
Such were the kinds of questions that Myron Uhlbergs deaf father asked him from earliest childhood, in his eternal quest to decipher, and to understand, the elusive nature of sound. Quite a challenge for a young boy, and one of many he would face.
Uhlbergs first language was American Sign Language, the first sign he learned: “I love you.” But his second language was spoken English—and no sooner did he learn it than he was called upon to act as his fathers ears and mouth in the stores and streets of the neighborhood beyond their silent apartment in Brooklyn.
Resentful as he sometimes was of the heavy burdens heaped on his small shoulders, he nonetheless adored his parents, who passed on to him their own passionate engagement with life. These two remarkable people married and had children at the absolute bottom of the Great Depression—an expression of extraordinary optimism, and typical of the joy and resilience they were able to summon at even the darkest of times.
From the beaches of Coney Island to Ebbets Field, where he watches his fathers hero Jackie Robinson play ball, from the branch library above the local Chinese restaurant where the odor of chow mein rose from the pages of the books he devoured to the hospital ward where he visits his polio-afflicted friend, this is a memoir filled with stories about growing up not just as the child of two deaf people but as a book-loving, mischief-making, tree-climbing kid during the remarkably eventful period that spanned the Depression, the War, and the early fifties.
"In this memoir about growing up the son of deaf parents in 1940s Brooklyn, Uhlberg recalls the time his uncle told him he saw his nephew as 'cleaved into two parts, half hearing, half deaf, forever joined together.' These worlds come together in this work, his first for adults, as Uhlberg, who has written several children's books (including Dad, Jackie, and Me, which won a 2006 Patterson Prize) effortlessly weaves his way through a childhood of trying to interpret the speaking world for his parents while trying to learn the lessons of life from the richly executed 'Technicolor language' of his father's hands. With the interconnection of two different worlds, there is bound to be humor, and Uhlberg is able to laugh at himself and his family's situation. He recounts unsuccessfully trying to reinterpret his teacher's constructive criticism for his parents and finding himself pressed into duty interpreting the Joe Louis prize fights for his dad. There are, of course, more poignant moments, as Uhlberg tries to explain the sound of waves for his curious father or when he finds himself in charge of caring for his epileptic baby brother because his parents can't hear the seizures. As Uhlberg grows up through the polio epidemic, WWII and Jackie Robinson's arrival in Brooklyn, he also grows out of his insecurities about his family and the way they are viewed as outsiders. Instead, looking back, he gives readers a well-crafted, heartwarming tale of family love and understanding." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Uhlberg's memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents--and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.
About the Author
Myron Uhlberg is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of a number of childrens books. He lives with his wife in Santa Monica and Palm Springs.
Author Q&A for Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg
Describe yourself in ten words or less.
•Living in two worlds: what was, and what might be.
•Deeply interested in how other people have lived their lives.
•As endlessly fascinated at the breadth, and limits, of language.
You are having a drink with one of your favorite authors. Who is it, and what would you ask that author if you only got to ask him one question?
While drinking anisette with Ernest Hemingway: “Papa, why did you do it?”
Which came first: the idea for the book, the title, or a passage from the book?
The idea of writing a book that would be both a biography of my two deaf parents, and a memoir, was my first inspiration, but until I thought of the title, Hands of My Father, I didn’t know how to begin.
Many writing experts advise, “write what you know.” Do you agree with this? And what practical advice would you give an aspiring author?
Writing what you know is good advice, but you also must understand what you know in order to write well. As for advice: write as you would speak, freely, then revise, as you would want to be read, closely.