by Frances Itani
ISBN: 0002005395

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by W.P. Kinsella

Deafening, by Frances Itani, is set in the years before and during World War I. This very well researched, sometimes touching, though occasionally boring effort has a beautiful cover photo by Susan Daboll. The story centers around Grania, a small town southern Ontario girl who is deafened by scarlet fever at age five.
The story begins very slowly as we are introduced to Grania, her guilt-ridden mother, her loving grandmother, her sister Tress, and the rest of her large family. The story doesn't pick up for nearly 100 pages until Grania is finally sent to the Ontario School for the Deaf. Descriptions of how deaf students are taught, and of her teachers and friends, are interesting. We then jump ahead ten years to 1915. Grania has stayed on to work at the School for the Deaf, where she meets and marries a hearing boy named Jim, who is a medical assistant. Jim goes to war in Europe as a stretcher-bearer. The focus then switches to Jim's war experiences, cutting back occasionally to Grania working and waiting at home. I found Jim's story of the horrors of war more interesting, as my own father was a stretcher-bearer in the American army in WW I and never spoke one word about his time there.
Grania nearly dies from the flu epidemic of 1918, but despite this she is generally a passive character to whom very little actually happens. She is difficult to get to know and there are no sparks in her relationship with Jim. There are several lapses where we are given too much information, and some cutting is in order, like the lengthy scene where Tress and Grania visit Toronto in preparation for Jim's homecoming. Still, Itani has a remarkable facility with words, and this is a fine effort. Itani has published poetry, three collections of stories, and a novel, Leaning, Leaning Over water.

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