Deaf Again

Growing Up Deaf: Issues of Communication in a Hearing World

Orchid of the Bayou: A Deaf Woman Faces Blindness

Silent Ears, Silent Heart

Book Reviews 
by Richard Cohen, M.S. 
Nationally Certified Deaf Interpreter 
American Sign Language Instructor
© 2003

Deaf Again
by Mark Drolsbaugh
1997 Handwave Publications, North Wales, PA
ISBN: 0-9657460-1-1

Growing Up Deaf: Issues of Communication in a Hearing World 
by Rose Pizzo as signed in ASL to Judy Jonas
2001 Xlibris Corporation, 
ISBN: 1-4010-2887-X

Orchid of the Bayou: A Deaf Woman Faces Blindness
by Cathryn Carroll and Catherine Hoffpauir Fischer
2001 Gallaudet University Press, Washington, DC 
ISBN: 1-56368-104-8

Silent Ears, Silent Heart
by Blair LaCrosse & Michelle LaCrosse
2003 Deaf Understanding, Roseville, MI 
ISBN: 0-9740111-0-X

Haven't decided which of the recent books, authored or co-authored by Deaf people, to select? I've enjoyed reading four of them and, although their stories, styles and reading levels are drastically different, the same underlying theme flows ... frustration from lack of clear communication, especially oppressive forces against American Sign Language (ASL). Three of the books are autobiographies and one is a fictional work. As a Deaf person who is part of both the "Deaf community" and "mainstream community," I can vouch for the validity of the diverse range of experiences described in all four works.

One of my favorite autobiographical books, the oldest of the tetrad, "Deaf Again," by Mark Drolsbaugh, contains many powerful, thought-provoking philosophical statements. What makes this book doubly interesting is that even though the author's parents were Deaf and ASL fluent, they followed the strong recommendations of "professionals" and stopped using ASL with their hard of hearing son, who was mainstreamed in the Philadelphia school system. The book follows his struggles with limited information input, how he coped, what events caused him to realize he had been cheated, and, finally, how he changed and became a successful professional. Naturally, in the end, he once again embraced ASL and accepted his Deaf identity, hence the title. This book would reflect the situation of many Deaf or hard of hearing people born in the 1960's and 1970's. (Note: Chris Wixtrom has written a separate review of this book.)

The second book I read, "Growing Up Deaf," by Rose Pizzo, as signed to Judy Jonas, is about the life of a Deaf woman who attended a New York City elementary and junior high oral school for the Deaf, followed by a mainstream high school, and reflects the experiences of many Deaf people born during the 1930's and 1940's. What is unusual about this book is that it's written in very simple language in order to, according to the interpreter/transcriber, allow Rose to clearly understand and verify the accuracy of the manuscript. This at least makes the book easy to read for those with limited reading skills.

The third book I started, "Orchid of the Bayou," by Catherine Hoffpauir Fischer (Deaf) and Cathryn Carroll (hearing), is the life story of Ms. Fischer, who has Ushers Syndrome. Although the title boldly includes "A Deaf Woman Faces Blindness," only the last 10% of the book covers her experiences of losing her eyesight late in life. This book is written documentary style, detailing much more about Ms. Fischer's Cajun background, it's history, mores and traditions, than I bargained for. The flow jumps from Ms. Fischer's recollected experiences, to past history, to current events, then back to the recollected experiences. Although that did make the initial reading slow-moving for me, the pace picked up, and the enjoyment factor greatly increased during a four-hour plane trip. The recollections would typically illustrate many situations experienced by Deaf people born during the 1940's and 1950's. Only after I finished reading the book, did I appreciate how much I had learned from all the historical details, including those of Gallaudet College during the watershed 1980's. Highly recommended for serious readers.

The fourth book, "Silent Ears, Silent Heart," by Blair LaCrosse (Deaf) and Michelle LaCrosse (hearing), is a fictional, quick-moving and easy reading melodrama that strains credulity at times, but it's a fun, painless way to absorb the Deaf experiences of those born circa 1970, about the same time period covered in the "Deaf Again" book. The underlying theme of this story is the Deaf protagonist's deep emotional frustration with his stubborn father's inability to accept his Deafness and use of ASL. Although it's apparent that one purpose of this novel is to give the general public some insight of the prejudices Deaf people face, I would not hesitate to recommend this as reading for middle and high school Deaf students.

As one can see from the reviews, each Deaf or hard of hearing person is an individual with his or her own diverse life experiences. Although no situation is identical, there are common threads that collectively link every member to what Deaf people call the "Deaf World." Reading any one or all of the four books will give one a glimpse into the oppression and discrimination faced by Deaf and hard of hearing people, but, at the same time, show that they can and do succeed in leading happy, productive lives in spite of all the barriers.

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