Born in 1894, Grania becomes deaf following scarlet fever at the age of two. Her mother never quite recovers from misplaced guilt over this outcome and is withdrawn. But Grania is well loved by the whole family, who run a hotel in a small town. Her older sister and their Irish-born grandmother see the child's intelligence and find ways to communicate with her by signs and words; they urge the parents to send her to a special school.By age nine, Grania is sent to the famous School for the Deaf in Belleville Ontario, founded by Alexander Graham Bell. Although the school is only a short distance from her home on the north shore of Lake Ontario, the child is not allowed to return for nine long months. At first she is overwhelmed with homesickness, but soon she finds kindred spirits among the other students and teachers and adapts to the life of the institution.

By 1915, her studies complete, Grania works at the school. There, she meets her future husband, Jim, a hearing man who is assistant to the town doctor. They marry, but only two weeks later, Jim leaves to serve as a stretcher bearer in the war in Europe. Fear and death haunt the people at home and abroad for years. Jim writes what little he is allowed of the horror and danger around him, always promising to return. Grania waits and writes too, slowly growing hopeless and angry, as devastating telegrams arrive one after the other.Her sister copes with the return of a grievously disfigured husband, wounded more in mind than in body. In late 1918, Grania falls ill in the influenza epidemic and is delirious for weeks. When she recovers, frail and bald, she learns of the loss of her beloved grandmother who died of the fever caught by nursing her. At the same moment she hears of the war's end and begins to believe again in hope.


A gentle, elegant story of a deaf woman and her hearing husband in World War I, in which individuals strive to help each other, sometimes even when they are enemies. It is refreshing to find a book that does not rely on nasty human villains, although broken people are plentiful. The only "villains" here are tragic occurrences beyond personal control: deafness, disease, and war. The work is meticulously researched for historical accuracy.

Grania's experience of silence in a hearing world and her ambivalence about sound are beautifully developed. She notices nuances of words that would be missed by a hearing person. She is intrigued and sometimes irritated by her musical husband's need to explain the nature of different sounds to her in words; similarly she rejoices when he and her family strive to learn sign. With some of her friends who cannot speak, she worries about the advent of a teaching philosophy that will try to eliminate sign.

Jim's lengthy service as a medic in the trenches is a lament for war itself, complete with senseless gory deaths, startling acts of kindness, and an underlying tension of fear and unknowing that must have stalked all who engaged in the horrible slaughter that was World War I.

Engaging overlap and ironies abound. The gap between the writing and receipt of letters is mirrored in the gap between what is expressed and what is experienced. Soldiers lose their hearing deafened by sound, and many others lose both their hearing and their hair in the influenza pandemic. Disease is communicated. War is a failure of communication. Solace can be found in magical chants and practices communicated from generations past.

Expert at lip reading, writing, and at signing, Grania needs to find silence to hear her own thoughts. "The language of the hearing was never simple. Language is our battleground.  . the one over which we fight, but with no desire to be part of the conflict." (365). Was an accidental war waged between the hearing and the deaf? And are we now at peace?

The author, once a nurse who was born in the town of Belleville, Ontario, dedicates her book to her deaf grandmother and the nine million who fell in World War I.


This novel won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada and Caribbean).



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