Summary and book reviews of House of the Deaf by Lamar Herrin

House of the Deaf

By Lamar Herrin

House of the Deaf

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About this Book

Book Summary

Ben Williamson has lost a daughter. While studying abroad in Madrid, Michelle Williamson was caught in a bombing by Basque separatists, a bombing that killed her and several members of the Guardia Civil at a post in a park. For Ben, this act of violence has left only questions, and at a moment of despair he decides to seek out the reasons for Michelle's death. As Ben begins to learn about the endless tensions beneath the surface of Spanish culture, he finds that he wants someone to answer for his loss.

Ben's other daughter, Annie, is also wrestling with the loss of her sister. When she follows her father to Spain, she finds a changed man.

Haunting and beautiful, House of the Deaf is the story of one man's brush with terrorism and his quest to find answers.

But no one dies in the right place
Or in the right hour
And everyone dies sooner than his time
And before he reaches home.
—Reza Baraheni

Chapter 1

When Ben sensed they were getting close, he signaled the taxi driver to let him off. Calle Isaac Peral, a strange name for a street in Madrid, but for some reason names were important to him, and he wanted to get them right. He paid the driver and tipped him fifty pesetas. Deliberately, as though stepping off terrain, he continued on foot, passing a travel agency, a photocopy center, a cafeteria with pastries in the window, a fitness center and a book store. Across a narrow side street was a large gray hospital, Hospital Militar Generalisimo Franco, that occupied much of the next block. Then a pharmacy, a bar advertising comidas caseras, and a marblefaced apartment building.

If he’d been back in Lexington, Kentucky, where he lived, he would not have been able to identify the neighborhood he was in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About the Book
Ben Williamson, a divorced father of two, is "slightly overweight, somewhat shambling, not quite mysterious" and seemingly ineffectual.

But we soon learn he is also capable of a serious act.

The serious act in Lamar Herrin's elegant novel, House of the Deaf, is a quest to avenge the accidental death of Ben's older daughter by Basque separatists in Spain. Michelle Williamson was killed while on her junior year abroad, caught in a bombing on her morning run. Ben is bewildered by the loss and angered, especially by the way life moves on in the very place Michelle died—a public park in the heart of Madrid. Ben travels to Spain in search of answers, ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Herrin doesn't deliver easy answers, and the ending is somewhat ambiguous but nonetheless appropriate and satisfying.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (902 words).

Media Reviews
Irma Wolfson, The Reading Room Bookstore

I find myself completely engrossed by it. Herrin writes so compellingly that I had that wonderful, and rare, experience of being transported to the world of the main characters, Ben and Annie. My own real world fell away and I was truly IN the book. What I especially like is how delicately Herrin depicts the slightest changes in perceptions and feelings of his characters. While the book has its exotic locale, Spain, and the plot the elements of a political thriller, its real strength is in Herrin's portrayal of its complex characters. I hope the book gets the attention of all the independent book sellers. It certainly deserves to.

Author Blurb Lorrie Moore
Lamar Herrin has always written beautifully. Now, in a manner reminiscent of J. M. Coetzee, he looks at the effect of contemporary political violence on one particular family. House of the Deaf is a powerful, poetic, and suspenseful book.

Author Blurb William Kennedy
Lamar Herrin redefines vengeance and innocence in House of the Deaf, a tale of political violence in which the life-blood of the spirit confronts the cold blood of the terrorist - a finely wrought novel of near-mystical dimension.

Publishers Weekly

In this spare book, Herrin deftly tackles a topical subject at a geographical remove from American soil for a subtle, suspenseful treatment of a personal response to terrorism.

Midwest Book Review

An extraordinary novel. Lamar Herrin has crafted a quietly harrowing, memorable story ... the storyline is exciting and all characters believably human. The sights, scents, and essence of Spain become living entities throughout the book. But it's Herrin's gift of skillfully revealing each person's inner life and thoughts that makes House of the Deaf a standout. Highly recommended adult reading.

Library Journal

Few novels handle the death of a child well; most go for sensationalism or bathos. This quiet novel powerfully renders one father's search for understanding when his oldest daughter is blown apart by Basque bombs in Spain. After profound tension, the ending leaves one spent but satisfied.

Booklist - Steve Powers

This is a lovely, wrenching novel that will move even the most unemotional of readers.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Studded with...subtle, psychological moments. Herrin, in his fifth novel, shares some of James Salter's gift for observationally acute understatement....[he] nails in a few sentences the complex chemistry between mothers and daughters, how a daughter is built to detect and destroy the hype in her mother's stories, even as the girl privately cheers the brio. And Herrin has a bit of J.M. Coetzee about him in his aptitude for the charged and acrid exchanges between women and men...[the story becomes] hypnotic, stripped-down like a fairy tale.

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Beyond the Book

Who are the Basque separatists?
Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna (ETA) stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom.  The group seeks independence for seven regions in northern Spain and South-West France that they claim as their own.  The ETA first appeared in the 1960s as a student resistance movement opposed to General Franco's military dictatorship (Franco banned the Basque language, suppressed their culture and had Basque intellectuals tortured for their beliefs).

Since Franco's death in 1975 Spain's Basque country now has more autonomy than any other region in Spain, including its own parliament, police force, education policies and ability to collect taxes, but hardline ETA members and supporters remain determined to ...

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