Imagine you are a boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s. Your world is full of sound. Buses growl, subways thunder, horns honk, people talk, laugh, yell, cry. Radios blare music from open windows. Neighbors babble around you. Weekends at Coney Island fill your ears with everything from the creak and rattle of carnival rides to the endless roar of the ocean surf. Every moment of your life is overwhelmed with sound. But for your parents, every day is silent.
This was the life of Myron Uhlberg, born in 1933 to Louis and Sarah Uhlberg, both deaf since childhood. Into their silence came a boy fully capable of experiencing the sounds they could not, a boy who became a vital link to the hearing world. Enlisted at an early age to translate his parents’ sign language, the young Myron grew up within two worlds, hearing and deaf, facing challenges and responsibilities that most adults never face. But amid those challenges he still found time to be a boy, and discovered the possibilities in language that led him to success as a writer and children’s author (Dad, Jackie, and Me).
Heart-achingly beautiful, Hands of My Father is a richly textured memoir of both sight and sound, a tale of life in all its range, from the pain of prejudice to the wonder of love in a family tightly knit by the rejection of the outside world. Uhlberg skillfully mixes poignancy with humor, creating a book that brings laughter as readily as tears. Through narrative and vignettes of memory, Hands of My Father offers both a flowing story and delightful nuggets, moments of life captured and held, to be viewed and savored. Under Uhlberg’s pen, words take form, like the shapes his father scribed into the air, his hands dancing as they spoke to Myron, and through him to the world at large. By the end, Uhlberg becomes not only his father’s interpreter, but also the reader’s, translating the richness and depth of his parent’s exquisitely expressive language down into printed words. It is a message of memory, struggle and love—and it is a message worth receiving.
â€©Howard Shirley writes from Franklin, Tennessee.