Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chanukah Day 3: Psychics, Vampires, Jews, and Other Rarities by Ari Marmell

Posted by Simcha 2:32 PM, under | 11 comments

Psychics, Vampires, Jews, and Other Rarities

Ari Marmell



I was delighted when Simcha asked me to contribute a column for his Hanukkah series, and I immediately started trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to write about. And I thought.

And I thought.

And I thought.

And then I had a snack.

And then I thought some more.

And it finally occurred to me that the reason I was having trouble coming up with an appropriate topic is that, to be honest, I’ve almost never written about Judaism or Jewish characters in my fiction.

Now, as far as my published novels to date, and all my work on the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, that’s understandable. Most of these are fantasy tales set on secondary worlds (that is, not Earth). The religions that exist bear no relationship whatsoever to any historical faiths. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists—none of these would have been appropriate in those books. Okay, fine.

But I’ve written some urban fantasy stories that I haven’t yet sold. I’ve written some fiction that does tie in with Earth history. I’ve written lots of short stories and rules supplements for the Vampire: the Masquerade and Vampire: the Requiem roleplaying games, which do take place in a variant of the real world. And yet, of the dozens—maybe hundreds—of characters I’ve created for those works, I can only think of one or two that were Jews.

Once this fact occurred to me, I started to wonder why that might be, and whether my own reasons—unconscious as they may have been—might provide any insight to readers or other writers. It’s not due to any issues of personal identity; while I’m not a very religious man, I still think of myself as Jewish in terms of culture and upbringing. I make no effort to hide that fact, and have talked about it openly many times, so it’s not any inclination toward secrecy on my part. So why, then?

Near as I can figure, after giving it some consideration, I think it’s because I grew up Jewish that I tend not to create characters who are. I realize that sounds counterintuitive, but consider: Despite the old canard that you’re supposed to “write what you know” (which isn’t accurate, by the way), the simple fact is that I need the characters I write about to really interest me. I am, after all, going to have to spend about 100,000 words with them if they’re novel characters—more, if I’m doing more than one book—or build story ideas around them if they’re RPG characters. And to me, that requires a hook, something exotic about them. Something that’ll be fun to explore and develop and come to understand.

And to me, Judaism—well, at least the basic trappings of Judaism—are mundane. I don’t mean that to denigrate them; I don’t mean that they’re boring or inferior. But they are, to me, everyday things that I grew up with. I’ve lived it; so there’s nothing that really draws me to write about it. The religious (and often seemingly mystical) ritual trappings of Catholicism, Vodoun, Islam, whatever—these, if I’m writing about a religious character at all, feel exotic to me. They make the character seem more interesting, in my eyes, because they allow me to explore beliefs and practices that I don’t already know.

In other words, it’s a self-fulfilling pattern. I instinctively look to things I see on a regular basis but don’t know well as the foundation for stories and characters, while glossing over the stuff that I’m so familiar with, it never strikes me as story material.

And I’m aware that it’s an inaccurate impression. Judaism is just as rich in fodder for modern stories and modern characters as any other faith. Want intricate rituals and practices? Orthodox Judaism—with which I’m only passingly familiar, as I was raised Reform—has plenty. Want a mystical tradition for my urban fantasy stories? You couldn’t ask for better than the Kabbalah, which offers a vast array of research on which to build all manner of tales.

But because I still think of Judaism as an “everyday” thing, from my childhood, it rarely occurs to me to think in that direction. It’s easier to look outward for the exotic and the fascinating, than inward. I think, in a larger sense, it’s a trap that a lot of fantasy writers fall into: We’re so busy looking for story potential in the weird—whatever “weird” means to any given author—that we never take the effort to dig deeper into where we come from and find the story potential in the parts of us and our upbringing that might be “weird” to others.

(Obviously, I’m not claiming this is the case for all writers. There certainly are Jewish fantasy authors who include aspects of Judaism in their writer or their characters. I’m simply thinking out loud about why I haven’t, and why I think many others don’t.)

I also think there’s an element of cultural expectation. We’re immersed, day in and day out, in a world where the mention of “religion” instantly brings imagery and philosophy from faiths other than Judaism. So many fantasies, for instance, create religious organizations that mirror the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. And that makes sense, since the Church was such a heavy influence on those times, and those times are such a heavy influence on traditional fantasy. But it needn’t be that way. So far, the overwhelming majority of fantasy tales either go for Mock-Catholicism or Mock-Paganism, but why not base a fantasy religion on Judaism? (Or Islam, or Buddhism, or what have you?) Why not have a religious, magic-using wise man in an epic fantasy or sword-and-sorcery tale called “Rabbi” rather than “Priest”? It may look a little odd, at first, but I think that’s only because we’ve been trained—by decades of fantasy tradition, and exposure to a largely non-Jewish culture—to think of it as odd.

I said “Write what you know” was an inaccurate aphorism, and I think it is—but I also think it’s far too easy for writers of the genre to go too far in the other direction. There’s plenty of story potential in what we know well, in what we grew up with. A character doesn’t have to feel exotic to the writer to be interesting; it’s the easiest way to come up with a fascinating protagonist, not the only way. I’m not sure when or where—I have to come up with the proper story to make it work—but having now thought consciously about this, I’m determined, at some point in the future, to give it a shot.

We have so many tales from long ago, but I figure we can’t possibly have used up our story potential. I just need to start looking in a different direction to find it.

Happy Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, or whatever you choose to celebrate. Me, I’m going to go open some presents.

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Enter to win two of Ari Marmell's books, The Conqueror's Shadow and The Warlord's Legacy, by leaving a comment below with your name and email address.
Unfortunetly I can only offer this giveaway to US and Canadian residents.

Gratitude Giveaway Winners

Posted by Simcha 11:59 AM, under | 1 comment

Congratulations to the winners of the Gratitude Giveaway

Riv Re

Sabina Dezman

And thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Chanukah Day 2: Guest Post by David Brin and Book Giveaway

Posted by Simcha 12:30 PM, under | 10 comments

In a provocative essay, Jewish Studies scholar Michael Weingrad asked "why don’t Jews write more fantasy literature?... Why no Jewish Tolkiens or Lewises, and why no Jewish Narnias?

Speaking as one who knows many authors in the science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) field, I can assure Mr. Weingrad that such Jewish fantacists exist. Lisa Goldstein won the National Book Award, a decade or two back, with The Red Magician, a golem-like fantasy about the holocaust. Esther Freisner has written humorous fantasies and there are many others. The great Avram Davidson used to probe the marvelous illogic that language imposes on our imaginations. Isidore Haiblum's "The Tsaddick of Seven Wonders" updated storytelling modes from the Pale. My own graphic novel, The Life Eaters (DC Comics 2004) explored the implications, had the Nazis been using necromancy during the Holocaust to revive the Aryan gods.

And yet, Weingrad's point is well-taken. A far higher fraction of Jewish SF&F lean toward the other end of the spectrum, as I do, writing mostly science fiction when they extrapolate into the unknown. Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnich and others of the last generation were collected in Jack Dann's anthology of Jewish SciFi Wandering Stars. More recently Harry Turtledove has explored detailed "alternate realities." Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policeman's Daughter" won massive literary acclaim. Michael Burstein brings an orthodox Jewish perspective to hard-tech SF.


In fact, the preference of Jewish SF&F authors for science fiction over fantasy... and their near complete absence from heroic or "elfish" genres, of the sort written by Tolkien and Lewis, may reflect something deep about their attitudes. As Weingrad points out, the feudal settings and magical worldviews harken back to times that offered nothing to Jews. No justice. Only the rationalizations of elites that excused the slaughtering of "lesser" types -- like orcs, or goblins, or people with big noses. Jews are, indeed, "invested in modernity" and are zealous to see the enlightenment push forward. But most fantasy portrays modern life as sterile and regrettable.


My own controversial essay on Tolkien provoked a storm by laying out how romanticism chiefly despises the core modern notion of human progress. There is also an undercurrent of utter selfishness, exemplified by Tolkien's palantir globes -- marvelous magical devices that allow the user to peer at faraway sights and glean vast wisdom at a touch or glance. The seven palantirs are justly kept reserved for mighty lords and kings. How much better than distributing millions of them... like the one on your own desktop... to every peasant and ethnic minority. (Oh, don't get me started on the inherent snobbery and selfishness of Harry Potter's world of parasitical "magicians" - leeching off a muggle world that they simultaneously despise and utterly rely-upon. Dig this Harry. We muggles have been to the moon. And if you ever asked us for help, we'd wipe out Voldemort, like a bug.)


Put aside the blatant fact that the Nazis yearned toward very similar romantic archetypes as Tolkien, the same general mythos -- though JRRT did despise them.

Oh, one can weave fantasy themes into science fiction, all right. My novel Kiln People takes the notion of golems into a near future when everybody can copy themselves -- their "soul wave" -- into temporary clay dittos, in order to be in two places at once. But the underlying theme is right there... the new thing goes to everybody. Not to some untrustworthy (elfish or magical or kingly) elite.

Weingrad has it right. At a fundamental level, Judaism is focused on this world, leaving the next to take care of itself, and this general philosophy informs Jewish authors, e. Even when they project from the here and now, the topic is still this reality of rationality and cause and effect. Tikkun Olam is about rolling up the sleeves and repairing what we see in front of us... or the problems of next year, or five generations from now. It is not about wishing we were gods.

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Enter to win a copy of Before They Were Giants, featuring one of David Brin's very first published stories along with those of many other popular speculative fiction authors. To enter just leave your name and email address is the comment box below.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chanukah Day 1: Interview with Jane Yolen & Book Giveaway

Posted by Simcha 2:23 PM, under | 17 comments

It’s the first day of Chanukah and I thought I would kick off the week-long celebration, here at SFF Chat, with my interview with Jane Yolen, which I am particularly excited about.

Though technically the interview is not actually mine because for such a prestigious author I thought I better bring in the big guns, and so I turned to my mother, Nadine Bonner.

Not only is my mother a professional journalist, and so I knew she would do a great job, but she is also the one who first introduced me to Jane Yolen’s books, many years ago, and so it seemed appropriate.

And so, without any further ado, here is JaneYolen….






NB: Hi Jane. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me.
Since this week we are focusing on Jewish speculative fiction authors I'd like to begin by asking you how your "Jewishness" has affected your writing. Do you feel that your background gives you a different perspective? Or perhaps you don't believe this at your " all, if so, why?

JY: My Jewishness growing up consisted of family bar mitzvas, some seders, and aunts and uncles who spoke Yiddish as code for keeping the children from understanding them. we didn't belong to a temple, I didn;t go to Sunday school or Hebrew school. But as almost all the kids in my class were Jewish (I went to PS 93 in New York City), I certainly KNEW I was Jewish.

When we move to Westport, Ct. and I was one of three Jewish kids in my junior high school class, I decided I wanted to learn more about Judaism. My parents joined a temple in Norwalk (more Jews than in the Waspish Westport which had no synagogue) so I could be confirmed. There were no bat mitzvahs then, or at least not there. I ended up head of the confirmation class and was the first girl to read out of the Torah. Was president of our youth group. Went to Smith College and minored in religion.

My growing up therefore gave me both insider and outsider perspectives on religion, class, cultures, history. It also gave me a hunger for stories about my people. All excellent backgrounding for a writer.


NB: Last March, Michael Weingrad wrote a scholarly article questioning the lack of Jewish fantasy writing. He asked why Jews don't write fantasy and why there is no Jewish Narnia. How would you respond to this?


JY: It was a stupid article, very wrongheaded. Much discussed online. I was president of the Science Fiction (and Fantasy) writers of America. Trust me--Jews DO write fantasy. He wanted to know why Jews didn't write fantasy like non-Jews do.

We write out own.

Have you READ Maus? Or Maurice Sendak's books. Or almost anything by Isaac Singer? Or as one commenter in the disussions I participated in said, " entire medium of comic book fantasy was created, drawn, and written largely by Jewish creative professionals, since the 1930’s. The entire fantasy movie industry, from Spiderman, to Superman, Batman, Iron Man, and the Hulk was a creation of Jewish men and women, each of which added elements of their upbringing and values. Kal-el, or Superman, was an amalgam of new immigrant fantasies and Kabbalah, and the Hulk is a Golem."

Neil Gaiman created the award-winning Sandman, which drew heavily upon Midrash and the Jewish creation story." Lisa Goldstein's The Red Magician. My book The Devil's Arithmetic is Holocaust fantasy. Am in the middle of a Golem novel. No, none of us has written the Narnia books for Jews, which was Weingrad's main complaint as far as I could tell (or remember, I read the piece when it came out) but why should we?

My friend, Professor Farah Mendelsohn, has a lot to say about this. She is an expert in both fantasy/science fiction and children's books in those genres and has written extensively about them. She went ballistic over that article.

NB: It amazes me the way you are able to write for so many different ages and sound authentic. How do you capture the right tone for teens and then find a different tone for pre-school children?


JY: I find my own child center and write the books I wanted to read as a child.


NB: What has been your most challenging project and why?

JY: Probably (looking back) The Devil's Arithmetic and Briar Rose, both Holocaust novels, both with fantasy elements. The research into the Holocaust and being immersed in the culture of death and suffering for so long took a heavy toll.

NB: Do you have a process for starting a new book when you finish one? Do you give yourself a break? Do you usually have something already in mind?

JY: I always have about a dozen projects in various stages on my to do list at any time, so never a break, but never bored, either.


NB: Do you have a particular method that works for you? Writing in the morning? Using an outline? Sketching out all the characters before you start writing?


JY: I write when it is light, not in the dark. Harder in the winter, then. I spend summers on Scotland where there are ALMOST white nights. My fingers fly across the keys then.

No outlines I prefer to set characters in motion and run after them shouting, "Wait for me!!!" I listen to their voices and may give gentle advice if asked for it. But mostly I am trying to keep up.
NB: After years of writing books for children and young adults you recently came out with your first graphic novel, Foiled. I’m curious as to why you decided to write a graphic novel and how was the experience different from writing a regular book.

JY: This past couple of years I have taken a long-planned new road on my trip through children’s books, traveling into graphic novels. You all know me as a picture book writer, a poet, novelist for midgrades and young adults., and an occasional nonfiction writer for children. Some of you may even know my adult stories, poetry, fiction, nonfiction.
The truth is, I had long wanted to write a graphic novel, being a comic book fan from way back. I especially love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting. I even got to write introductions for the graphic novels from three of those. I’ll let you guess which one I didn’t introduce.

For the past fifteen or so years, I have actively pitched ideas to the editors I knew. But not one of them thought the graphic novel was something I—or they—could produce successfully. These rejections had nothing to do with whether or not the editors knew anything about graphic novels. Or read them. Or thought them interesting. Or provocative. Or even possible moneymakers. Most of the editors said something like, “Why would you want to do any such thing?” as if writing a graphic novel was—somehow—beneath me and possibly demeaning to my reputation as a writer. Soiling my lit’ry fingers, doncha know. These are the same editors, mind you, who are now turning down my manuscripts, saying “You are too literate for our list.” I kid you not.


NB: Can you tell me about some of the projects that you are currently working on?

JY: I have just finished (and it's all copyedited) a short novel based on Snow White called Snow in Summer that is set in Apalachia in the 1930s and 40s and will be out next Fall. Am writing a Sleeping Beauty novel, The Thirteenth Fey which should be finished by late spring. (I hope.) Have several new How Do Dinosaurs books being illustrated right now. And lots else.

NB: What inspired you to begin writing fantasy, and who are some of your current favorite fantasy writers?

JY: I was an early fairy tale and fantasy reader. Some of my (old) favorites were the Colour Fairy Books by Andrew Lang, The Thirteen Clocks and The White Deer by James Thurber, Mistress Masham's Repose by T.H. White as well as his Arthurian novels, and Tolkien of course. As far as new fantasy writers, crazy about Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale, Diana Wynne Jones, Alice Hoffman, Bruce Coville, Phillip Pullman, Patricia Wrede, Patricia McKillip, Neil Gaiman, Holly Black.. .not in any particular order.



NB: And to tie the interview into Chanukah, do you have a favorite Chanukah memory that you can share?


JY: When my daughter and her two daughters lived in South Carolina, they would call me each Chanukah night, light their candles and hold the phone over the menorah so I could sing the blessing. Now they live next door to me, and Maddison (now fifteen) comes over and we light the candles together and sing the blessing together.

Thanks again Jane for taking the time to answer all of my questions.

And thank you to everyone who joined us here for this interview.

Since part of the fun of Chanukah is giving presents I have a gift to offer to one lucky commenter. Jane's publicists have offered to give away one of her newest books, though I can't yet specify which one it is. We are working on getting Foiled, the graphic novel, but whichever book it ends up being, I know it will be a wonderful prize.

To enter the giveaway just leave your name and email address in the comment box below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Chanukah!

Posted by Simcha 8:28 PM, under | 12 comments

I love the holiday of Chanukah.

I love the cozy atmosphere that pervades that house as we light the menorahs with our children and then watch the flames dance on the colored candles as we sing Ma'Oz Tzo, and enjoy the delicious fried latkas* and sweet sufganiot*.

Afterwards, my husband and children gather on the living room floor for their annual game of draidel* played with the most valued currency of all, chocolate coins. Meanwhile, I collect the presents from their hiding places around the house (some of which weren't hidden well enough and have already been discovered by my two year old) which I hand out to my kids as they squeal in excited glee and then watch as they tear off the wrappings and lose themselves in exploring their new toys.

And now, as my kids all sleep soundly with their new toys firmly tucked into their beds beside them (yes, they insist in sleeping with their presents) I think about my other favorite part of Chanukah, the exciting story behind it all. The tale of the Jewish heroes who stood up against the oppression of the Greek rulers, refusing to allow any more Jews to be massacred for practicing their religion. And the miracles that took place, allowing the small band of Jewish rebels to defeat the Greek army and then the discovery of the small vile of oil, necessary to relight the Temple's Menorah, which was supposed to be lit 24-hours a day, and which somehow lasted for eight full days, just enough time for more oil to be prepared.

I realize that it's no wonder that I'm drawn to reading fantasy when I've grown up on stories such as these. In fact, many of the themes popular in classic fantasy novels can be found within the Torah and Book of Prophets. I've been weaned on stories from our history which are full of miracles, prophecies, romances, betrayals exciting battles and even farm boys that become kings (see the story of King David), and so when I started reading fantasy novels many of those stories were already familiar to me, and didn't really seems that far-fetched.

Following this line-of-thought I thought it would be interesting to invite a few different Jewish science fiction and fantasy authors to see what their take is on the relationship between Judaism and speculative fiction and on how it effects their writing. I received a warm response to this idea from the authors that I approached, and so I'm excited to be able to present you with a week of Jewish SFF authors here at SFF Chat.

Here is some of what you can expect to find here over the next few days (and not necessarily in this order:

  • An interview with Jane Yolen along with a giveaway of one of her books
  • A Blog post from Ari Marmell about why he doesn't include Jewish themes in his writing and a giveaway of The Conqueror's Shadow and The Warlord's Legacy
  • A blog post from Kate Elliott about why she does include Jewish-like characters and themes in her books and a giveaway of Cold Magic.
  • An interview with Ann VenderMeer and a giveaway of The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals.
  • A blog post from David Brin responding to the claim that Jews don't write fantasy literature and a giveaway of Before They Were Giants.
  • An original short story from Lavie Tidhar and a giveaway of his newest book, An Occupation of Angels.
  • A blog post by Rachel Swirsky about her upcoming anthology of Jewish science fiction and fantasy, People of the Book, along with a giveaway of the book.




I have had a wonderful time putting all of this together and getting to interact with some of my favorite authors and I hope you will all enjoy it as much as I did. So be sure to stay tuned every day this week for some Jewish SFF awesomness here at SFF Chat.

Happy Chanukah to all!

* Sufganiot: Deep-fried doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar and traditionally filled with jelly, though these days caramel and chocolate have also become popular fillings for sufganiot. A favorite Chanukah past time of ours, since coming to Israel, is visiting as many bakeries as possible and comparing each one's sufganiot to see whose is the best.*Draidel: A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. It is used during Hanukkah to play a popular children's game that involves spinning the dreidel and betting on which Hebrew letter will be showing when the dreidel stops spinning. Children usually play for a pot of gelt, which are chocolate coins covered in gold colored tin foil, but they can also play for candy, nuts, raisins – anything really! (From About.com)




* Latkas: Fried potato pancakes traditionally eaten on Chanukah and delicious with apple sauce or sour cream (I go with the apple sauce)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg

Posted by Simcha 5:45 PM, under | 5 comments

I was once standing by the bus station waiting for a ride when a group of people descended from a nearby tour bus, touting backpacks, suitcases and duffel bags. They all looked to be in their mid-thirties, casually dressed in jeans and t-shirts, some of them obviously couples. Together they piled their luggage at the street curb as they proceeded to make individual arrangements for transportation, meanwhile busily chatting and laughing with each other. But what made this scene unusual, amidst all the hustle and bustle of the busy bus station, was that all of this was done in complete silence. The conversations that took place were done by hand and facial gestures and even the laughter was muted. One man was even conversing on a cell phone, in the typically dramatic manner of the Israeli male, but he was speaking face-to-face with the person on the other line. And throughout all of this I felt like I was the one surrounded by a bubble of science, the only one unable to understand the conversations taking place.

For some reason this incident really stayed with me for a long time afterward and I was reminded of it again while reading Uhlberg's Hands of My Father. I've never actually known anyone who is deaf and I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to navigate through life with such a challenge, and to live a normal life as well- like the people I saw at the bus station.

One of the reasons that I love reading memoirs is because they allow me to enter the lives of people whose experiences are so different from my own; to get to know and understand people who I would otherwise never encounter. Myron Uhlberg's story, of his life as a hearing boy raised by two deaf parents, fascinated me and I've had his memoir high on my wish-list for over a year now. And so I was delighted when I recently found it available at my library and as soon as I got it home I dived in.

Septuagenarian Uhlberg recounts his unusual childhood in this lovely memoir. Taking readers back to Depression-era Brooklyn and the beach at Coney Island, Uhlberg describes how his father, a handsome printer, fell in love with his mother, a fun-loving beauty. But these beachgoers were far from normal -- they were both deaf. Ultimately they married, and despite their families' fear that their children would likely suffer their own affliction, they decided to start a family. In this way, their hearing son, Myron, enters the world.

With candor and humor, Uhlberg recounts a childhood spent largely as a bridge between his parents and the hearing world. Translating from sign language to spoken language and back again, he enables his father to communicate with local shopkeepers, awakens his parents when his baby brother cries, and even interprets at a less-than-glowing parent-teacher conference. At times, he's embarrassed by his parents, and hurt that his father is called "dummy." But in the end, his overwhelming love and compassion leaves a lasting effect.

Uhlberg notes that his father asked him to describe sounds -- that of thunder or of waves crashing onto the shore. Perhaps it was in searching for words to such impossible questions that Uhlberg became the gifted writer he is today.

I've always been interested in stories about life in America in the early 1900's though Uhlberg's story is from a perspective that's new to me, from the perspective of people shunned by an ignorant society for their lack of hearing. Both of Uhlberg's parents were deaf and their hearing parents and siblings made very little effort to communicate with them, and so they grew up virtual strangers within their own families. They were each sent to special schools for the deaf where the children were strictly disciplined, since they were believed by their teachers to be wild and unintelligent. Sign-language was forbidden and so the children furtively learned it from each other in the darkness of their dorm rooms, as their teachers were sleeping.

When Uhlberg's parents married both of their families strongly discouraged them from having children but his parents when ahead and did so anyways, resulting in Myron and his younger brother, both of whom were able to hear perfectly. But as the oldest hearing member of the family, Myron often found himself having to be the ears for his father, his conduit to the outside world. Myron's role was often confusing to him as he was forced to communicate as an adult with outsiders, in his father's stead, but then revert back to a child as soon as the communication ended.. Adding to the strain was the birth of Myron's younger brother who Myron was immediately responsible for, being the only one in the family who could hear his cries at night. And when his brother began having seizures it was 9 year old Myron who was in charge of caring for him.

But despite the resentment and occasional embarrassment that Myron felt towards his parents, his overwhelming love and respect for them is clearly felt throughout the book. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that his father was so demonstrative in his love and affection towards Myron and his brother, which was uncommon for men of that time period.

Uhlberg take a particular pride in the elegance and beauty of his father's signs, often providing vivid descriptions of the movements of his father's hands. While the neighbors all referred to Uhlberg's parents as "dummies" for not being able to hear or speak properly, Uhlberg's father shared the same disdain towards his hearing neighbors for their clumsy method of communication.


    "Hearing people talk only with the mouth. Hearing words tumble from the mouth, one word after another word, like a long word train. The meaning is not clear until the caboose comes out of the mouth tunnel. These are only dry words, like dead insects. Mouth-talk is like a painting with no color. You can see shape. Understand an idea. But it's flat, like a black and white picture. There is no life in a black and white picture."

    "My language is not a black and white language. The language of my hands and face and body is a Technocolor language. When I am angry my language is red-hot like the sun. When I am happy, my language is blue like the ocean, and green like a meadow and yellow like pretty flowers."


I particularly enjoyed Uhlberg's descriptions of the different ways that way his parents and their friends communicated with signs, all of which was completely new to me. The scene below takes place at an outing at the beach in the special area where the deaf visitors would congregate.

    I was intrigued even then by the wild diversity of language on display, the different styles reflecting a wide variety of personalities and geographic origins, as well as differences between the sexes. The men tended to sign more aggressively, more assertively than the women. The outgoing personalities signed expansively, while the shy tended to make smaller, more guarded signs. Some were so reserved that they made only the most tentative gestures in the air, constipated strings of small, stunted signs. Some signed with abandon, even boisterously, while others signed demurely. Some signed loudly, some softly. Some signed with comic exaggerations, while the signing of others was more controlled, more thoughtful. A couple who had moved to the Bronx from a small town in Georgia signed with an accent I didn't recognize. My father told me they signed with a drawl, and it was true that their signs did seem to flow from their hands like syrup, thick and slow.


I found these descriptions of sign language fascinating and really loved the idea that an accent exerts itself even in hand gestures.

Hands of my Father is a wonderful memoir in which Uhlberg's pays tribute to his parents, their struggles and their successes. I came away from the book awed by the
Uhlbergs' strength of spirit and wishing that I could have had the chance to meet them myself but glad that I at least got to know them a little through the book.

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