SONG WITHOUT WORDS: Discovering My Deafness Halfway Through Life. Gerald Shea. DaCapo Press. 292 pages. $25.99.
Gerald Shea’s “Song Without Words” is the account of how he discovered, at 33, that he was partially deaf. His hearing loss was caused by scarlet fever when he was 6. As a result, he spent his life unable to hear high- and midfrequency tones and consonant sounds, essentially having the hearing of an 85-year-old.
Shea’s determination allows him to manage his impairment with remarkable success, and readers will be surprised at how it escaped the attention of his parents, brothers, friends and teachers. In fact, Shea became so adept at compensating and making sense of the “lyricals,” Shea’s term for the short nonsensical phrases he is able to hear, that he graduated from Columbia Law School, was hired by a prestigious law firm and practiced law in New York and Paris. It was only through a hearing test required by a company for which he briefly worked that his hearing loss finally was documented.
Skeptics of this textbook example of a deaf person leading a happy, prosperous life in the hearing world may find it unrealistic. Shea had the benefit of a stable, upper-middle class home and access to educational opportunities. Shea addresses neither in his book.
In addition, he has access to well-respected audiologists and neurologists in the U.S. and in Europe. Many deaf people do not always have such opportunities.
Finally, Shea’s considerable hearing loss never jeopardizes his employment. It is difficult to believe that this is always the case for the hearing impaired.
Reviewer Hayden D. Shook was a Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia and teaches English as a Second Language in Charleston.