Deafening

by Frances Itani

Paper Book, 2003

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Grove Press, c2003.

Description

Born on the shores of Lake Ontario, Grania O'Neill suffers a childhood illness that destroys her hearing. Grania's life without sound is also a life bounded by a powerful family love that tries to protect her from suffering. But when it becomes clear that Grania can no longer thrive among the hearing, her family sends her to the Ontario School for the Deaf. There, protected from the often unforgiving world outside, she learns sign language and speech. And there she meets Jim Lloyd, a hearing man, and the two, in wonderment, begin to create a new emotional vocabulary that encompasses both sound and silence. But a war is raging on the other side of the world. Only two weeks after their wedding, Jim must leave home to serve as a stretcher-bearer on the blood-soaked battlefields of Flanders. During this long and brutal war of attrition, Jim and Grania are pulled to the centre of cataclysmic events that will alter civilisation forever.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member mbergman
I found it difficult to keep reading this book. It wasn't bad, just not particularly engaging. It seems like it could have been. It was the story of a Canadian girl who goes deaf after an illness at the age of 5 in the early 20th century. She eventually marries a hearing young man who goes to Europe as a stretcher bearer in WWI. I think there may be things going in this book regarding the relationship between the man's experience as in the war & hers as a deaf woman, but I didn't get it.… (more)
LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
Three stars is a little stingy; 3.5 might be more accurate. I really like reading about a person who grows up deaf, about how she adapts to a different form of communication. Learning a bit of ASL myself, I appreciated the inclusion of some signs within the text. And having lived in Belleville for four years, it was neat and interesting to read about the region in the historical context of World War I.

However, because I was mostly interested in the deaf culture aspect of the book, I found myself a little impatient with the war scenes. The juxtaposition of Jim's attention to sound with Grania's life without sound was interesting, though I did not really attend to that theme as well as I could have (or maybe that was a fault in the narrative, that it wasn't as acute as it could have been).

In general, I've found Itani's novels to be better than pop fiction, but not quite at "literature status" (the distinction being my own scale). This story is a perfect example of that.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
A lyrically and thoughtfully written story of Grania, a girl and then a young woman, born in Ontario, Canada, at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, who lost her hearing after surviving scarlet fever at the age of five. At first, we are led through her childhood, agonies of adaptation, and her schooling. When things seem to start working out for her the First World War breaks out, and when it is almost finished Spanish flu sweeps through Europe and North America taking its toll.
There are many parallels drawn between the silence of the deaf and the deafening noise of the war, between the psychological and physical devastation of the war, disability and severe sickness.
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LibraryThing member seasidereader
This book was sent to me from Canada by a cousin of the author after we'd had a discussion about historically-based fiction. I very much enjoyed it and wish that Itani's work was more available in the U.S. She wrote Deafening in part to honor her grandmother, who grew up deaf from scarlet fever.
Intense research made the details of everyday lives from 1903 to 1919 feel very personal and visceral, and we are made to feel the privations brought by World War I. Sound, both its absence and intensity, is a thread throughout the story, as is isolation.
Reading Deafening made me think about how diferently we seem to regard hardships today, even how differently we define them, complain about them, seek compensation and blame for them.
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LibraryThing member Miche11e
Grania was born in Deseronto Ontario and became deaf at age 5 following scarlet fever. She evenutally goes to the School for the Deaf in Belleville. She meets and marries and young man, who goes away to fight in the war for 3 years. He comes home.

That's the story. The descriptions of being deaf were the most interesting parts of the book. Otherwise, it didn't much appeal to me, but I did read the entire book.… (more)
LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
Conjures up the feel of Deseronto in the early part of the twentieth century well and portrays the world-view of the deaf in a sympathetic way. I wasn't so keen on the World War I parts, though - felt she didn't really have anything new to say there.
LibraryThing member blackbelt.librarian
An enjoyable book overall. I loved reading about Grania's time at her school, and when she fell in love with Jim. There was too much devoted to Jim's experience in Europe, but it didn't take away from the book too much. I have relatives who are deaf and I've also worked a little bit with the National Theater of the Deaf...I found this book interesting & like a small window into deaf history & culture… (more)
LibraryThing member John
This is a first novel that arrived to very positive reviews. I thought it was good, but perhaps not as over the top as I had been led to believe by the reviews.

It tells the story of Grania, a young girl growing up in the small Ontario town of Deseronto, on the Bay of Quinty. Grania loses her hearing at the age of five due to scarlet fever; her family tries to keep her home and in a normal school, but finally at the age of nine, sends her off to a school for the Deaf and Dumb in Belleville. Grania returns home after several years in the school, falls in love with and marries a hearing man, Jim, who goes off to WWI as a stretcher-bearer. So here we have the two main strands of the book: the world of the deaf and the horror of the trenches. The connecting theme, it seems to me, is that of isolation: the isolation of the deaf in trying to make sense of, and to function in, a hearing world, while at the same time building their own world which only the deaf can understand through sign or lip-reading (the novel touches on the debate about which is best for deaf people); compare this to the horror of the trenches where death is every present and arbitrary in its timing and choices and which is, again, a world unto itself that those outside can never comprehend; compare further to those who are severely wounded (such as the husband of Grania`s sister) who return to the `normal` world, but are isolated in their physical or psychological pain and experiences. Grania in fact is the only person who can reach the wounded husband, by teaching him how to speak again as if he were a deaf person, and because she understands what it is to be separate while still being part of the `normal` society.

Grania`s grandmother, Mamo, is one of the most sympathetic characters in the novel. The descriptions of the horrors of the trenches ring true, and I think Itani does convey well the sense of separateness of the deaf, and the sometimes well-meaning, but more often just ignorant and condescending attitude of many hearing people.

Each chapter begins with a quote from The Canadian, a magazine published by the director of the School that Grania attends, and which I suspect is real. One quote caught my eye: Ìt is just as pleasant and grand a thing to die for Canada and the British Empire today as it was for Rome in the brave days of old`. Which, of course, recalls Wilfrid Owens` great line about `the old lie`: Pro Patria Mori
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LibraryThing member spacepotatoes
I was hoping to enjoy this and be moved by it more than I was in the end. It was well written and the first portion of the novel was very engaging, the characters were likeable and I found Grania's experience growing up deaf very interesting. Once the story shifted to WWI and Jim's (Grania's husband) experiences in France as a stretcher bearer, I lost my connection. I'm not sure how to describe it, the only thing I can think of is that Itani's way of writing the WWI experience didn't feel very authentic. Sometimes it felt like things cobbled together from various history books. I think I also had a hard time caring about Jim because the story doesn't really say too much about how his relationship with Grania developed before they got married and his voice never felt totally distinct from hers. Overall, it was an enjoyable read and there were several touching moments in it, but it dragged after the first third and never completely picked up again.… (more)
LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
The amount of research that went into this novel is obvious from the beginning: Frances Itani is meticulous in trying to accurately portray the smallest details of the lives of her characters. The story is moving - cataloguing the damage caused by the First World War to the lives of the characters and describing the difficulties faced by a deaf person in a hearing world.… (more)
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
This story is filled with such tragedy. In Part I Grania O'Neill is just five years old when she loses her hearing after a bout with scarlet fever. Her family is desperate to make her normal, to help her fit in the the hearing world. Her grandmother and sister devote themselves to helping her cope. When it is obvious she can't, Grania, at nine years old, is sent away to a boarding school for the deaf. Part II covers one year. The year is 1915 and Grania is now 19 and working at Gibson Hospital. She meets and marries a hearing man, Jim Lloyd. In Part III Jim has gone to help in the war effort as a medic. The violence he encounters at this time assaults his senses to the core, but it is the thought of Grania and their love that sustains him. Part IIII (that is deliberate) covers 1917 - 1918. Jim has been gone for two years and Grania remains vigilant for his letters and watchful of the changing war efforts. The book ends with Part V, 1919 and the end of the war. So much has changed during this time. So many people have died and relationships are forever changed. I won't spoil the end except to say it was beautifully written. A book I couldn't put down.… (more)
LibraryThing member LibraryCin
4.25 stars

Grania was left deaf after a bout of scarlet fever when she was 5. She was finally sent to a school for the deaf at 9 years old, and by then was very good at lip reading, and she did speak some. Just before World War I, she met and married her husband, Jim, a hearing man, who went to war two weeks after their wedding to serve as a stretcher bearer (carrying wounded men off the battlefield).

I really enjoyed reading about the deaf culture near the beginning of the 20th century. Later in the book, it shifts between Grania's and Jim's perspectives during the war. I found both stories intriguing. I thought Itani did a good job describing the war scenes and I loved Grania and Jim's relationship, as well as Grania's relationships with her grandmother and sister. I really liked this and I don't know why it took me so long to read it.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
Hard for me to give a star rating as I skimmed the whole of the book after Grania and Jim got married. I found the part I read properly mildly interesting and it was a pleasure to read of a deaf child being sent away to a special school and settling in and doing well there and learning to sign and speak. Jim seemed quite sweet, but he was a bit of a surprise as we had skipped over most of Grania's teenage years.

After that it turned into a WWI novel, a genre I find too upsetting to read any more, so I skimmed it to the end. The friend who lent it to me loves this novel, but she is a braver reader than me. I wish we had found out how Jim and Grania's marriage fared after his return.
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LibraryThing member gardenreader
Itani masterfully describes the world of a deaf person - Grania - and how her family deals with her deafness. The second half of the book is partially from Grania's husband, Jim's point of view while he is at war (WWI) and is particularly graphic. Not for the squeamish reader.
LibraryThing member steller0707
A puff of air, an aroma or a movement in the corner of her eye - these are the signals that something is happening around her. For Grania (Graw - née - a) is deaf as a result of a bout with scarlet fever when she was a child.

Grania has a protective mother (who feels guilty for her daughter's deafness), and a loving grandmother and sister who help her. She is sheltered until she is nine, when it is was apparent that she needed schooling. She is sent to the Ontario School for the Deaf 20 miles away. She thrives there, meets her best friend, Fry, and her love, Jim. When WWI intervenes the lives of everyone, including Grania, are turned upside down.

Set in Canada as well as World War I France Deafening is well-researched, with insights into what it might be like to live without sound.
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LibraryThing member verenka
I picked this book up at a booksale because it deals with deafness. I found the story to be very interesting. The main character Grania loses her hearing at a young age and has to start all over again learning sign language, talking and reading lips. I think the author made a good job of describing how Grania experiences things.
The story is also about the love between Grania and a hearing boy who joins the army to fight in first world war. The descriptions of war, destruction, injury, danger were too long and tedious for my taste. I'd rather have found out what happened to them after the war ended and how Granias sister and her husband dealt with the situation.
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