I’m entirely unsure if I spelled that right. I just finished a book titled “Deafening” by Frances Itani. I picked this up in the bargain fiction section at Barnes and Nobel, so no one should feel like they should have heard of that author. And just in case you’re wondering, I have read other books since The Handmaid’s Tale, but none of them were worth commenting on.

So this book is about a Canadian girl who lost her hearing to scarlet fever when she was five. It’s historical, taking place between 1900 and 1920, and encapsulates WWI. The first half is this very tender rendering of a little girl’s life, detailing her learning process as a deaf girl in a hearing world. Itani makes great use of sensory details, which I’m a sucker for. Then in the middle of the book the whole thing shifts over to an extremely gory rendition of the war. Then it ends.

The second half of the book reads like a fairly interesting anti-war pamphlet. This author makes at least one major mistake in the war half of the book by using the same gross-out tool twice in a row, which is not only disgusting, it’s lazy. I don’t actually know what WWI was fought over, and I still don’t know. This book focuses only on the atrocities, the body count, the poor women waiting at home. As far as this little world goes, there was no reason for that war at all, which I don’t quite buy.

So, all in all, the first half is wonderful, a very beautiful piece of fiction. The second half was gross and didn’t make it’s point very well. It seems clear that facts were left out to make the point more convincing, which isn’t going to convince the intelligent audience the book is appealing to. It ends rather abruptly, which was disapointing for such a delicate book.

3 thoughts on “Deafening”

  1. I don’t know what WWI was about (did it have something to do with fascism and Mussolini?) but I am actually kind of interested in knowing, so I hope you don’t mind that I emailed Bob and asked him to reply to this comment with a nice little historical lesson for us. He tends to know stuff like that.

  2. Wow. Maybe Bob’s reply to me will make sense of the second half of your book for you:

    “WWI was fought because Europe had made itself into a political powder keg. Once unleashed, the war continued to be fought in spite of steadily increasing casualties because the governments of Europe had gone mad, and each preferred to send more of its sons to the lines than to back down. In that respect, it was a terrible bloody game of chicken that all participants lost.

    In terms of the events that precipitated the war, what happened was that Archduke Ferdinand, who was the only feasible heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated by a terrorist group in Sarajevo. A month later, the Empire sends Serbia a 10-point ultimatum aimed at compelling Serbia to suppress anti-Hapsburg propagandists and politicians. Serbia accedes on 9 of the 10 points, but refuses to allow the empire to direct its criminal courts in the investigation of the assassination itself. Austria declares war on Serbia.

    Russia is pledged to defend Serbia against invasion, and mobilizes its military. Germany demands that the Russian forces on the German-Russian border stand down. Russia refuses. Germany declares war on Russia, and because France is allied to Russia, France as well.

    Germany invades France, passing through Belgium to get there. Britain is pledged to defend Belgium, and declares war on Germany. And that is how, between late June and early August of 1914, the whole of Europe went mad.”

    I vaguely remember learning about this in school but the craziness of the whole thing has just hit me. People died for THAT? That’s terrible.

  3. Wow, that is enlightening. I guess if you’re going to pick a war to write an anti-war book about, that’d be the war to pick. Now I just wish the book had told me what Bob has been so kind as to explain. Thanks for asking him. 🙂

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