Summary and book reviews of What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins

What Is Visible

by Kimberly Elkins

What Is Visible
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2014, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2015, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Prologue
Laura, 1888

How little they trot me out for show these days, and yet here I am this frigid morning, brought down from my room to meet a child, and me not out of my sickbed two weeks. They're actually calling her "the second Laura Bridgman." The second, and I'm still here! What am I supposed to do, bow down to her? Set her on my knee? I didn't like children even when I was one, and now I think them worse than dogs. I've shriveled and so they've searched for another freak in bloom to exhibit and experiment on. It's taken Perkins decades to find one pretty enough, quick enough. Well, pretty is really the important thing, or at least not too strange or looking like what she is. Not looking like what I am.

"Just talk to her," Annie Sullivan writes upon my hand. "You have so much in common." Like two in the throes of the plague might share tips and grievances? Yes, little Miss Keller and I will rattle on about our lives in our respective cells,...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

What is visible here? Not only the myriad developments of a half century in American history and the whole span of a remarkable existence, but also a glimpse into how love and purpose can make any life worthwhile.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review Members Only (985 words).

Media Reviews

Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review (cover)

What Is Visible contemplates the bare requisites of being human, more fundamentally than most meditations on haves and have-nots… A novel's extraordinary power is to allow a reader to take possession of the inner life of another. This one provides entree to a nearly unthinkable life, and while no one would want to live there, it's a fascinating place to visit.

Woman's Day (A "Best Book of 2014")

An engrossing and moving read.

Kirkus Reviews

An affecting portrait which finally provides its idiosyncratic heroine with a worthy voice.

Booklist

[T]his 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

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. despite the many physiological and social restrictions placed on her, Laura 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."

Author Blurb Ha Jin, National Book Award Winner for Waiting
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.

Author Blurb Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
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.

Author Blurb J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Maine and The Engagements
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.

Author Blurb Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
I found myself slowly mesmerized by What Is Visible, and then increasingly haunted and bound to the story of Laura Bridgman . . . To say that I was profoundly moved by this novel would be an understatement.

Reader Reviews

Diane S

What is visible
Took me a while to read this one, not because I did not like it but because I kept looking things up in Wiki. Most everyone has heard or read about Helen Keller, but I for one had never heard of Laura Bridgman. Her story, on fact, began fifty years ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Communicating With the Deafblind

Deafblindness is either congenital (present from birth) or acquired later in life. It can be attributed to many causes including rubella, glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and premature birth. Deafblindness is not one monolithic condition; it varies in severity or completeness: some people maintain limited use of one or both senses. Both Laura Bridgman (the subject of Kimberly Elkins's What Is Visible) and Helen Keller could see and hear until the age of two, when severe illness struck.

There are many ways of communicating with the deafblind. For those with residual hearing, clear speaking or hearing aids can make a difference. For those with limited sight, lipreading, large print writing, or sign language performed in their ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked What Is Visible, try these:

  • Mr. Mac and Me jacket

    Mr. Mac and Me

    by Esther Freud

    Published 2015

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Mr. Mac and Me is the story of an unlikely friendship, and a vivid portrait of one of the most brilliant and misunderstood artists of his generation.

  • The High Divide jacket

    The High Divide

    by Lin Enger

    Published 2015

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Breathtaking portrait of the vast Plains landscape are matched by the rich expanse of characters' emotional terrain, as pivotal historical events blend seamlessly in this story of a family's sacrifice and devotion.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...
  • Book Jacket: Barkskins
    Barkskins
    by Annie Proulx
    Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, is not a book to read quickly. After a month of slow reading, I ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Marriage of Opposites
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's latest work, The Marriage of Opposites, is a historical fiction novel focusing on ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Imperial Wife
    by Irina Reyn

    A smart, engaging novel that parallels two fascinating worlds and two singular women.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Secret Language of Stones
    by M. J. Rose

    "A fantastic historical tale of war, love, loss and intrigue."
    – Melanie Benjamin

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

William Boyd's Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!