Picks and Pans Review: A Loss for Words

updated 10/06/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lou Ann Walker

A good novel often creates an enclosed world, rich and complex. More rarely does that happen in nonfiction, but that kind of eloquence is the single most outstanding quality of A Loss for Words. The author grew up in Indiana in a family where the parents, because of illnesses in infancy, were deaf. Relatives always said, "Be good, Lou Ann. Help your parents." She was good. She became her parents' conduit to the outside world—a skillful, sensitive, intuitive interpreter for them and, eventually, for other deaf people. Two younger sisters took over her role when she went to a nearby college, studying to become an instructor to the deaf. Halfway through, she switched to Harvard, a brave leap for a small-town girl. After graduation she settled in New York to work as an editor and translator for the deaf. This book is full of information about the deaf: "One of the criticisms leveled at deaf people is that they're rigid thinkers...There is no room for gray areas...The reason why makes perfect sense. When deaf children are small, everything is yes or no...Their entire lives are concrete, didactic efforts to do a-b-c-d.... They get angry when there isn't a right answer to a question." More surprising is the revelation that "deaf people literally don't hear themselves thinking." If they seem simple, it may be only that they do not think the way hearing people do. Their thoughts may be like the dreams of hearing people. Walker had a tough time coming to understand that her parents chose to live as simply as they did, not because they were inferior in any way, but because they are loving, wonderfully good people, Readers will come away from this book informed, deeply moved and full of admiration for Walker's marvelous parents. (Harper & Row, $15.95)

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