Thursday, August 18, 2011

World of Silence

World of Silence by Don Coldsmith

It's fairly well-known that the Plains Indians used a universal sign language to communicate among tribes that spoke different languages. Have you ever wondered if that sign language could have also been used to talk to deaf people? This is that book.

Set in an imaginary Great Plains tribe after the introduction of the horse but before the great western migration of white people, this book is part of a much longer series, but you don't have to read the others. This one stands on its own just fine. Coldsmith uses an odd sort of prose style to imitate the way their language works, at first I found it a bit annoying but eventually I got used to it, and even found it beautiful, if excessively plain.

The book is divided into three chapters. The first, Speaks-not, is about how the main character loses his hearing as an infant, and covers his childhood. The second, Hunts-Alone, is about his adolescence, and courtship with his childhood sweetheart, Far Dove. I liked this middle chapter the best--their romance is quite sweet. The last, South Wind, is really about his grand-daughter, whom he is forced to raise alone (for reasons I won't reveal), and it's all told from her perspective. Speaks-not is not shunned by his tribe because of his deafness, quite the opposite, he has a very successful life as a fully-functioning member of the tribe. The main conflict in the third chapter is how South Wind, having been raised alone, can re-integrate with her tribe.

Overall, I found this an enjoyable read, very well-researched and detailed, and a positive, realistic portrayal of deafness. It even inspired me to do some research online about the Plains Indians sign language, and all the signs Coldsmith describes in detail are authentic, as far as I can tell. This is an original and imaginative novel, recommended.

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