What Is Visible (Hardcover)
Twelve, 9781455528967, 307pp.
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Bookpage Best Books of 2014
"Woman's Day" "Most Inspirational Book of 2014"
Women's National Book Association Great Group Reads Pick for 2014
"A vividly original literary novel based on the astounding true-life story of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person who learned language and blazed a trail for Helen Keller. "
At age two, Laura Bridgman lost four of her five senses to scarlet fever. At age seven, she was taken to Perkins Institute in Boston to determine if a child so terribly afflicted could be taught. At age twelve, Charles Dickens declared her his prime interest for visiting America. And by age twenty, she was considered the nineteenth century's second most famous woman, having mastered language and charmed the world with her brilliance. Not since "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" has a book proven so profoundly moving in illuminating the challenges of living in a completely unique inner world.
With Laura-by turns mischievous, temperamental, and witty-as the book's primary narrator, the fascinating kaleidoscope of characters includes the founder of Perkins Institute, Samuel Gridley Howe, with whom she was in love; his wife, the glamorous Julia Ward Howe, a renowned writer, abolitionist, and suffragist; Laura's beloved teacher, who married a missionary and died insane from syphilis; an Irish orphan with whom Laura had a tumultuous affair; Annie Sullivan; and even the young Helen Keller.
Deeply enthralling and rich with lyricism, WHAT IS VISIBLE chronicles the breathtaking experiment that Laura Bridgman embodied and its links to the great social, philosophical, theological, and educational changes rocking Victorian America. Given Laura's worldwide fame in the nineteenth century, it is astonishing that she has been virtually erased from history. WHAT IS VISIBLE will set the record straight.
About the Author
Praise For What Is Visible…
"WHAT IS VISIBLE is remarkable at many levels. It is written in an intelligent, intricate style, populated with many true historical figures, and teeming with convincing period details. Above all, the novel has a unique narrative structure, which illustrates the art of fiction at its best in presenting the interior. A splendid debut indeed."—Ha Jin, National Book Award Winner for Waiting
"I know firsthand how brutally difficult it is to write a creatively rich, humanly revealing novel based on real people in a distant time. Kimberly Elkins does this brilliantly. WHAT IS VISIBLE is not only a compelling, deeply moving novel, it is a fully realized work of art. This is an auspicious debut of an important new writer."—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
"An astonishing debut that vividly brings to life a forgotten chapter of American history. You'll recognize many of the characters in WHAT IS VISIBLE, but its heroine, Laura Bridgman, is likely someone you've never heard of. After you read it, you'll never forget her. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, and at times quite funny, this book is a marvel."—J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Maine and The Engagements
"I found myself slowly mesmerized by WHAT IS VISIBLE, and then increasingly haunted and bound to the story of Laura Bridgman, the second, deeper, darker invisibility of her life so permanently excavated and restored to memory by the talented hand of Kimberly Elkins and her extraordinary powers of imagination. To say that I was profoundly moved by this novel would be an understatement."—Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
"A wonderfully imaginative and scrupulously researched debut novel... [The protagonist] comes across as a willful, mysterious marvel, showing 'how little one can posses of what we think it means to be human while still possessing full humanity.'"—Publishers Weekly (STARRED)
"An affecting portrait which finally provides its idiosyncratic heroine with a worthy voice."—Kirkus Reviews
"Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Howe, his poet wife, and Laura's beloved teacher, this is a complex, multilayered portrait of a woman who longed to communicate and to love and be loved. Elkins fully captures her difficult nature and her relentless pursuit of connection."—Booklist
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- How did reading What Is Visible affect your ideas about sensory perception. Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like to live with only one sense?generic viagra price canada
- How did the multiple narrators featured in the book—Laura, Julia, Dr. Howe, Sarah— impact the storytelling for you? Who was your favorite narrator? Who was your least favorite? How would the story have been different if only one character told it?generic viagra price canada
- How did the knowledge that What is Visible is based on historical fact influence your reading of the novel? How do you think fictionalizing a life, or writing a book “based” on a real historical person, influences our understanding of that character and their life and times?generic viagra price canada
- Since Laura cannot see, what do you think the title, What Is Visible, might mean?generic viagra price canada
- How did you feel about Laura’s occasional violence toward her teachers? At what point or points throughout the book could you empathize with Laura? When did you feel the most estranged from her thoughts and behavior?generic viagra price canada
- Julia Ward Howe had a fairly unsympathetic relationship with the blind students at Perkins, and Laura in particular, for most of the book. Do you feel, however, that over the course of the book that Julia genuinely changed and grew and became a more sympathetic character?generic viagra price canada
- Did you find Dr. Howe to be a likable character? If not, why not? Why do think he left Laura $2,000 in his will, and left his wife nothing? Did this surprise you?generic viagra price canada
- Although Laura could not see, she was very concerned with her own concept of “appearance.” How did Laura’s appearance impact her life? Do you think that if Laura had been allowed to get glass eyes, as Helen Keller did, that her life would have been different?generic viagra price canada
- Laura’s religion was deeply important to her. But how did her choice of religion contribute to her fall from grace, and even from history?generic viagra price canada
- When she’s baptized, Laura believes she can see underwater for that one miraculous moment. What do you think about the possibility of such a miracle?generic viagra price canada
- What do you really think Dr. Howe’s feelings were about Charles Sumner and Sumner’s about him? Does Sumner ultimately emerge as a sympathetic character?generic viagra price canada
- Sarah Wight decided to stay with Edward Bond and even bear his children after finding out that he had syphilis. Do you feel she made the right choice? Do you think she regretted it?generic viagra price canada
- Dr. Howe refused to take money to finance a lifelong teacher and companion after Sarah Wight was dismissed. Do you believe, as Helen Keller said, that if Laura had had her own Annie Sullivan that she would have “outshone” Helen and been remembered for her accomplishments?generic viagra price canada
- Why do you think Laura engaged in self-cutting?generic viagra price canada
- Laura claimed that she had actually regained her sense of taste temporarily. Do you think this was true or that it was wishful thinking—or perhaps a need to please Kate?generic viagra price canada
- In the end, it is revealed that Dr. Howe was having an affair with Kate at the same time that Laura was. Were you surprised to find out that the baby was his? How did Laura’s misconception in thinking the baby was hers illuminate her skewed understanding of how things work in the world?generic viagra price canada
- Consider Dr. Howe’s involvement with the Secret Six in financing John Brown’s campaign, ultimately leading to the massacre at Harper’s Ferry. Do you think that Dr. Howe was right to finance Brown as an expression of his fervent abolitionism?generic viagra price canada
- What is Visible tells of how Helen Keller was chosen from a photograph to be “the second Laura Bridgman,” and about how Helen was given glass eyes—a secret that was kept from the public during her lifetime. Has the book changed the way you view Helen Keller or Annie Sullivan?generic viagra price canada
- How would you answer the question Laura asks Helen that begins and ends the novel: which sense would you most treasure?generic viagra price canada