On the recommendation of a friend back here in Calgary, one of the books I read while visiting my father in Belleville, Ontario was Deafening by Frances Itani. With a regional setting of Deseronto, Belleville, the railway and the surrounding area, upon completing the book, of course, I had to go and visit the places. Itani’s novel, placed during World War I, is exquisite. A Winner of a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, I was captivated and motored through this one at warp speed.
Grania, the protagonist, emerges from a bout of scarlet fever as a child, deaf. The novel evokes a real sense of what language means. As stated in the Goodread’s summary,
“A magnificent tale of love and war, Deafening is finally an ode to language-how it can console, imprison, and liberate, and how it alone can bridge vast chasms of geography and experience.”
In published reviews, it appears that a lot of readers lost interest as Grania becomes involved with Jim. I think the author is successful in steering clear of sentimentality and introduces Jim as a device to talk to the reader about war, its impact on the small community and how the concepts of lost communication express a similarity with loss of hearing.
At the conclusion of this book, I thought this was my favourite book of all time…but, you know and I know, this is just until the next one!
My father humoured me and visited the grounds of Belleville’s Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf with me and I went, on another day, to Deseronto in order to document some of the places mentioned in the book. Why? Just because I could.
The school for the deaf has a beautiful campus including several stately brick buildings and wonderfully groomed grounds.
The places of Canada…driving driving driving…remind me of the blessings of our common narratives. Everywhere, windows are boarded up, mostly in small towns and names are written, as are profanities on the baked painted surfaces of what used to be animated corner stores and bakeries and churches…places where people gathered, all working to get through hard winters and humid summers.
Deseronto captures all of it. The tea rooms and antiques, the post office, the docks…
I am grateful to have seemed to step into a book.
I strongly recommend Deafening by Frances Itani.