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Summary and book reviews of Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg

Hands of My Father

A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love

by Myron Uhlberg

Hands of My Father
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  • Published:
    Feb 2009, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Beth Hemke Shapiro

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Book Summary

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.

A video of the author reading from Hands of My Father, simultaneously translated into ASL, followed by a text excerpt.



Chapter One
The Sound of Silence

My first language was sign.

I was born shortly after midnight, July 1, 1933, my parents' first child. Thus I had one tiny reluctant foot in the first half of that historically fateful year, and the other firmly planted in the second half. In a way my birth date, squarely astride the calendar year, was a metaphor for my subsequent life, one foot always being dragged back to the deaf world, the silent world of my father and of my mother, from whose womb I had just emerged, and the other  trying to stride forward into the greater world of the hearing, to escape into the world destined to be my own.

Many years later I realized what a great expression of optimism it was for my father and mother, two deaf people, to decide to have a child at the absolute bottom of the Great Depression.

We lived in Brooklyn, near Coney ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Readers cannot help but be drawn into this poignant reminiscence, and long after the book's pages are shut, Myron Uhlberg and his family will continue to inspire.   (Reviewed by Beth Hemke Shapiro).

Full Review Members Only (605 words).

Media Reviews
Entertainment Weekly - Myron Uhlberg

In the retelling, as in his upbringing, actions speak louder than words. B+.

Christian Science Monitor - Marilyn Gardner

Uhlberg’s poignant story of devotion and responsibility is a love letter of sorts to his late parents. It opens a window into a world of isolation and “eternal silence” unimaginable to most people. Calling sign a language of the heart, he elevates it to something approaching an art form, saying, “It is for me the most beautiful, immediate, and expressive of languages, because it incorporates the entire human body.”

Publishers Weekly

...a well-crafted, heartwarming tale of family love and understanding.

School Library Journal (Adult Books for Teens)

Teens who enjoy history, historical fiction, memoirs, or books about people who are differently abled should all enjoy this.

Booklist

Starred Review. Heartfelt...[Uhlberg] describes significant episodes of his early life with artful economy and sincere emotion.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Run.
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.

Reader Reviews
Nancy

A boy's remarkable story of growing up with deaf parents
Myron talks about how having 2 deaf parents may have made his life harder, but he still shows how remarkable his parents were. His father held a steady job as a newspaper printer and loved his wife and sons fiercely. Myron may have been somewhat ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Sign Language & Deaf Culture

Hundreds of years of evolution have shaped American Sign Language (ASL), today the main sign language for deaf people in the U.S., parts of Canada and Mexico, and many other countries around the world. Derived in part from the personal hand signal repertoires of many deaf individuals, ASL has grown to become a fully functional language, a medium of higher education, and a central part of Deaf culture.

The deaf have always developed their own means of communicating through signals, long before any attempt was made to standardize these into a formal language. Nearly three hundred years ago, a spate of deaf births on Martha's Vineyard gave rise to a unique sign language on the island. One of the earliest ...

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