Hands of My Father
A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love
By Myron Uhlberg
(Bantam, Hardcover, 9780553806885, 232pp.)
Publication Date: February 3, 2009
List Price: $24.00*
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By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg’s memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents—and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.
“Does sound have rhythm?” my father asked. “Does it rise and fall like the ocean? Does it come and go like the wind?”
Such were the kinds of questions that Myron Uhlberg’s deaf father asked him from earliest childhood, in his eternal quest to decipher, and to understand, the elusive nature of sound. Quite a challenge for a young boy, and one of many he would face.
Uhlberg’s first language was American Sign Language, the first sign he learned: “I love you.” But his second language was spoken English—and no sooner did he learn it than he was called upon to act as his father’s ears and mouth in the stores and streets of the neighborhood beyond their silent apartment in Brooklyn.
Resentful as he sometimes was of the heavy burdens heaped on his small shoulders, he nonetheless adored his parents, who passed on to him their own passionate engagement with life. These two remarkable people married and had children at the absolute bottom of the Great Depression—an expression of extraordinary optimism, and typical of the joy and resilience they were able to summon at even the darkest of times.
From the beaches of Coney Island to Ebbets Field, where he watches his father’s hero Jackie Robinson play ball, from the branch library above the local Chinese restaurant where the odor of chow mein rose from the pages of the books he devoured to the hospital ward where he visits his polio-afflicted friend, this is a memoir filled with stories about growing up not just as the child of two deaf people but as a book-loving, mischief-making, tree-climbing kid during the remarkably eventful period that spanned the Depression, the War, and the early fifties.
"In his moving memoir, Hands of my Father, Myron Uhlberg captures the essence of one exceptional family’s life in Brooklyn in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Uhlberg is a compassionate writer of truths. His book is full of surprises, written with a generous, loving spirit. In vivid scenes–sometimes wrenching, sometimes mischievous and sometimes hilarious–he takes us inside the singular world of his childhood. And there the reader discovers the profound, everyday courage exemplified by each member of the Uhlberg family."—Lou Ann Walker, author of A Loss for Words
“In telling the story of his very unique childhood, Myron Uhlberg has created a book that is universal. His feelings of love and responsibility, of shame and enormous pride, can teach us all something about being a member of a family. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t love this book.”–Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Run
“Fascinating.... [Uhlberg’s] circumstance made his childhood exceptional and well worth recalling, which he does in an unpretentious but vividly evocative style.”—Wall Street Journal
“A well-crafted, heartwarming tale of family love and understanding…. [Uhlberg] effortlessly weaves his way through a childhood of trying to interpret the speaking world for his parents while trying to learn the lessons of life from the richly executed “Technicolor language” of his father's hands”—Publishers Weekly
“Heartfelt...[Uhlberg] describes significant episodes of his early life with artful economy and sincere emotion.” —Booklist, starred review
“Fresh and engaging.... In Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love, Myron Uhlberg ... documents a family life severed from the mainstream.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A fascinating look at an uncommon childhood.”—OK! magazine
"A warm family chronicle as instructive as it is inspiring ... opens a window into a world of isolation and “eternal silence” unimaginable to most people."—Christian Science Monitor