Monday, August 24, 2009

Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love by Myron Uhlberg (Brogan’s review)

Here is my sister Brogan’s second review...

Hands of My Father by Myron UhlbergI actually picked Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love by Myron Uhlberg off the library shelf (where I work)—which, despite my occupation, is a rare way for me to come across a new book to read, especially one that flies to the top of my to-be-read pile. I was attracted to it because years ago I read and loved Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World by Leah Hager Cohen, which is also about the hearing child of two deaf parents.* Hands of My Father is the story of Myron Uhlberg, born in 1933 in New York City. He tells his unusual story of being the eldest born to two deaf parents, and as such, as soon as he began to speak, he began to interpret for them.

The parts I loved most about this book were when he focused most intensely on his parents’ story, and their struggle, given the prejudices of the day. The history of New York in the 30s and 40s was filtered through this other lens of deaf-versus-hearing world, and the hearing world comes across as cruel and intolerant (people assume his parents are mentally impaired).

At about the midpoint of the book, there seemed to be a lull, where Uhlberg filled in the gaps with various remembrances of his life and boyhood, which felt self-indulgent and frankly a little boring. The strength of the story was in the relationships within the family, the tangle of responsibility and love, the pressures of interpretation. (I wondered if this was unfair of me, to be less interested in the son than in the parents, but I still think this was a weakness in the text, where the narrative felt adrift and didn’t pick up until a couple of chapters later.)

I also thought the book focused quite heavily on Uhlberg’s relationship with his father and left me with questions about his relationship with his mother. Did she not interact with the public world in ways that required her son to interpret for her? It’s not that she isn’t present—her storytelling is vivid and intimate, as reported by Uhlberg.

Overall, I thought Hands of My Father was worth reading for its insight into another world, for its love. One of the most touching stories in it was when Uhlberg described a serious accident his father had. When they returned from hospital, his mother flung herself into her husband’s arms:

As young as I was, I understood what her reaction meant: she had not, after all, lost her only partner in silence in this alien hearing world. And even at that early age the thought came to me: What would it be like if one of them died and the other had to go on living? How would they endure the loss?

I knew deep down that in some way I had aged this day, and that I now understood the isolated world of my deaf father and mother as I never had before. (p.194)

In this way, the book is as much the love story between Uhlberg’s parents as it is anything else. It’s a beautiful and moving story, for the most part delicately told.

*I recommend that book, too.

Visit these blogs for other reviews:
Adventures in MotherhoodBlogging for a Good BookLife Is a Patchwork Quiltmango missivesTales from a Teaching Mama


  1. I've been really curious about this book, and have had it on my wish list for a while. Which of the two books do you think is best (if you had to choose)?

  2. I love books like this, but the people around me don't always like it when I'm reading them, because I tend to talk about them a lot. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention.

  3. Alyce: I don't know that I could choose at this point in time, because it has been YEARS since I read _Train_Go_Sorry. My recollection is that Cohen's book was more analytic (in a good way) of Deaf culture and deaf schools, as well as more descriptive of the poetry of ASL, whereas Uhlberg's is beautiful primarily by its description of his parents' love story.

    Bermudaonion: Happy reading! I hope you like it!

  4. Great review! This sounds like a really good book. I can't ever imagine what it's like to live in silence. I always wonder if deaf and blind people feel like they're missing on so much, it must be so hard. I still can't believe that people actually assumed his parents were mentally impaired.

  5. I've thought about picking this one up a time or two. I really enjoyed your thoughts on this and I just might have to read this one!!

  6. Yes, Arielle, one of the touching parts of this book is how Uhlberg feels by being the one who hears just how much others insult & disparage his parents. However, I think if you read the book you won't think that they are 'missing out on so much'...just having a different experience of the same world we are in...

    Staci: I hope you do pick it up!

    Let me know how you all like it :)

  7. Great review! I especially love the quote you selected. How heartbreaking and thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing that. Thanks for also sharing your recommendation for Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World. I had not heard of that one.

  8. This sounds like a touching story. I'd love to read this book.