Monday, December 20, 2010
Hands of My Father, by Myron Uhlberg
"Does sound have rhythm? Does it rise and fall like the ocean? Does sound come and go like wind?"
My father spoke with his hands. He was deaf. His voice was in his hands. And his hands contained his memories.
Sign is a live, contemporaneous, visual-gestural language and consists of hand shapes, hand positioning, facial expressions, and body movements. Simply put, it is for me the most beautiful, immediate, and expressive of languages, because it incorporates the entire human body.
Myron Uhlberg loves his family. The way he writes this memoir of his Brooklyn childhood expresses that in many ways. His childhood was not typical. As a CODA, a Child of Deaf Adults, and sibling to a brother afflicted with epilepsy and drugged into oblivion, Myron has to deal with a lot. He acts as his parents' translator and as a third parent to his brother. The family lives in the middle of a busy block in New York City, which provides immediate access to basic needs but also a surrounding often hostile to people who are different, who cannot approach the world in the same way as others. Myron recollects with candor the ignorant and rude remarks he receives from both children and adults while serving as a go-between for his parents.
He also shares stories from his parents' childhoods, the way they grew up. Both were surrounded by hearing brothers and sisters; they grew up with crudely fashioned homemade signs and never felt as close to their parents as they could have. Their stories are a very personal look at the way deafness was treated in the early part of the 20th century.
There are, of course, humorous moments as well, but they're very grounded in the realities of life. Combining the warm, human moments with the bad times in life, Uhlberg presents a very realistic and human memoir.