Myron Uhlberg was born the hearing son of deaf parents at a time when American Sign Language was not well established and deaf people were often dismissed as being unintelligent. In this young reader adaptation of his acclaimed memoir, Hands of My Father, Uhlberg recalls the daily difficulties and hidden joys of growing up as the intermediary between his parents’ silent world and the world of the hearing.
This is a wonderful memoir about being a translator and ambassador between worlds. This occupancy of that liminal space between mainstream and subculture is one I relate to as a child of lesbians, though certainly my life was different and easier than his.
Uhlberg writes clearly and vividly about his childhood in Coney Island in the 1940s. More than just a story about translating for his parents, he places his life in historical context, really giving the feel of life in Brooklyn in the WWII era.
Translating for his father renders Myron an adult, but as soon as the conversation is over he returns to being a child. There’s often an internal conflict—not wanting to translate offensive comments on either side. It makes him privy to adult conversations--such as in the doctor's office. Other times he's forced to rat on himself, like in parent-teacher conferences when the teacher doens't say glowing things about his academic performance. This translating makes Myron mature quickly, as does his brother's epilepsy. Yet, he's still a child, climbing buildings, escaping bullies, and playing in the neighborhood. Never self-pitying, The Sound of Silence is written with kindness for all the characters, and pride in the deaf community.
Myron not only interprets, but his father often asked him to describe sounds to him, like thunder, wind, waves:
“‘Wet like waves!’ I finally signed. ‘Waves sound like a billion water drops breaking apart when they smack down on the hard sand, all the tiny sounds joining to make one great sound. A wet, falling ocean sound,’ I added desperately.”
Perhaps these conversations birthed the writer. ASL is shown as beautiful, complicated and nuanced. This book would be an interesting addition to a list of books about first generation children who are bilingual.
Thanks, Net Galley, for a digital e-book in exchange for an honest review.
Copyright © 2020 Lara Lillibridge
Public domain imagery courtesy of Snappygoat.com