Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book Review: Orchid of the Bayou

While my friends were enjoying the snow, I was trying to devour Orchid of the Bayou: A Deaf Woman Faces Blindness by Cathryn Carroll and Catherine Hoffpauir Fischer. I'd heard good things about this book and was really excited to be able to read it for my ASL class.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Since the subtitle of the novel is "A deaf woman faces blindness" I thought it would be about, well, a deaf woman going blind. True, the first person protagonist has Usher Syndrome, the leading cause of deaf-blindness, but beyond some poorly-used foreshadowing, she doesn't address her visual problems until page 216 out of 253!

She spent two chapters, a total of about fifteen pages, talking about her narrowing field of vision. The entire rest of the book left me made me glad I'm a hockey fan because I'm good at screaming, "WHO CARES?!" Eventually, I stopped screaming it in my head and began to write it in the margins. At one point I even drew a box around the words "that's what she said" because reading those words in print was more exciting than whatever the "she" in the novel had said.

The book is not poorly written but the co-authors aren't wordsmiths either. Grammatical errors are few but hilarious nevertheless because they are mistakes those of us who can hear the English language can hear but the deaf cannot. Although, the book does include a plethora of useless fact detailing the lives of every single person the Kitty, the protagonist, encountered.

More than a deaf woman facing blindness like the title suggests, this novel tells the lifestory of your typical deaf woman. Sorry to take the Deaf way and be blunt. Diagnosed as mentally retarded, deaf, and dumb, Kitty Hoffpauir spent her childhood struggling to communicate with her family, learning to balance her residential school life with her home problems, and proving that "deaf" does not mean "dumb." Eventually she makes her way to the top of her class and is eligible to attend Gallaudet University (think Mecca for the deaf). Washington, DC creates a culture shock for this Acadian Southern deaf girl. Eventually she learns to embrace the multiculturalism that exists in her life and be content with who she is.

It is finally at this point in the book that she addresses her sight problems. She says, "I didn't mind being deaf. Although deafness took away hearing, it gave me community--and that community was based on sight" (232). A book detailing these challenges would have been more entertaining and appropriate with the title. Oh, well.

It was interesting to read her take on being deaf in a hearing family, being deaf and raising hearing children, watching deaf interact with each other, and the communication challenges she faced throughout life. I loved noticing how some of her family members were able to see beyond her deafness and understood her need for alternative communication while others preferred to force her to try and read lips or took to kicking her to obtain her attention.

Over all, I give this book a 2 out of 5. It could have been a 3.5 without the misleading subtitle. I think it's a good read for anyone who wants to know more about Deaf culture but don't expect a lot about deaf-blind or Usher Syndrome.

<>< Katie

1 comment:

Olivia Novotny said...

This is an extremely ableist book review. The grammatical mistakes are "hilarious" because deaf people can't hear the mistake? That is so disgusting, I'm sorry. I hope you have revisited how you approach and think about disabled people since 2010.