Readers’ Advisory: Deafening, by Frances Itani (2003)
Synopsis: It is the eve of World War I. Set in a small Ontario town, Deafening focuses on Grania O’Neil, a young girl who lost her hearing at the age of five, thanks to scarlet fever. With the help of her grandmother, Grania attends the nearby School for the Deaf, and learns how to open up to the world. Eventually, she falls in love with Jim, a hearing man, and together they try to live with each other.
Then the war hits, and Jim is sent overseas as a stretcher bearer. Here the book veers between Grania and Jim, drawing a poignant comparison between Grania’s struggle to hear and Jim’s struggle to survive in the harsh world of the Western Front.
Deafening received critical acclaim, and for good reason: it presents a very vivid story, not just for Grania, who presents a unique point of view, but for Jim as well. Itani describes the war in vivid detail, with an emphasis on the dehumanizing effects of it. Set among such an unusual backdrop, the love story is definitely compelling for those who enjoy historical fiction or Canadian fiction. There is a wide variety of Canadian authors and Canadian fiction out there, and highlighting a Canadian work like this is a way to introduce people to literature they might not know about.
If you liked this book, you might also like…
The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, P.S. Duffy: Set both in a Nova Scotian fishing village and the front lines of World War I, this book explores the effects of the war on both fronts: through Angus, who signed up to find his brother-in-law, and through his sin Simon back home. This dual exploration of the war at home and overseas bares much similarity to the format of Deafening. If you liked the war aspect of Deafening, you might like this too.
The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald: The story of eight year old Madeleine, living in an Air Force base near the border, and eventually, her adult search for a killer. Set in the sixties during the Cold War, this book is also historical fiction, though with a different bent. Based on the Steven Truscott case, the violence within may not be for everyone. MacDonald describes everything very vividly and elegantly, so if you’re interested in Canadian historical fiction, this might be worth checking out.