From the book jacket: 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.
Comment: I'm not quite sure what I expected from House of The Deaf, but I am sure that it delivered more than I anticipated. As the reviewer for Library Journal puts it, 'few novels handle the death of a child well; most go for sensationalism or bathos' whereas 'this quiet novel powerfully renders one father's search for understanding'. Herrin doesn't deliver easy answers, and the ending is somewhat ambiguous but nonetheless appropriate and satisfying.
Lamar Herrin is the author of six books - 5 novels and a memoir, Romancing Spain, the story of how he met and fell in love with his wife of 30 years, which was published in July 2006; he is also a professor of creative writing at Cornell University. If you belong to a bookclub, please note that he is available to chat with bookclubs as part of BookBrowse's Invite The Author program.
When asked the story behind The House of the Deaf he explains:
When I was director of Cornell University's Study Abroad program in Spain, I did my jogging around the Parque Santander. A number of my students did, too. Three or four years later, an American man running around that same park was killed when a car bomb, planted by the Basque nationalist organization ETA, went off before a Civil Guard headquarters. I couldn't help but ask myself: What if that American had been one of my students? How would I answer to the parents of such a student should they present themselves before me?
In spite of Basque pressures for independence, in spite of ETA, Spain remains a charming country, with a ceremonial sense of itself that brings the Old World up to date and takes history out of the museums and puts it squarely in the streets. Then a bomb goes off and all that history gets ripped apart.
Spain has its dark side (Goya painted his dark paintings in a house called "House of the Deaf Man"), and the darker Spain gets the more powerful its pull might be felt to become. As a novelist, I wanted to see what might happen to a revenge-minded American, whose daughter has been killed, and to a second daughter who sets out to rescue him. The staging of House of the Deaf is the Spain of the Basques, but the urge to strike out against the ethos of violence that characterizes the times is, sadly, something all of us can relate to, and that deepening spiral of violence is what I want to depict here.
The book title is a reference to the painter Goya's house known as the "Quinta del sordo", or "Country-house of the Deaf-Man"
This review was originally published in January 2006, and has been updated for the September 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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