I picked up T4 at the library because, hey, how could I not? (If you know me, you know that a verse novel about WWII is pretty much irresistable.) When I tried to mark it as currently reading on Goodreads, however, I hit a snag; I can only assume that it won’t let you search for currently reading titles until you’ve typed the third character in the title.
This is a problem when the title is only two characters.
I ended up having to look it up in the main search field and flag it from there, and because I was on the page anyway, I took a quick gander at the reviews. A surprising number of them were definitely negative, which piqued my interest enough that I finished the book with more critical an eye than I would normally use. (As the book is short and the plot simple, I’ll just say that it’s the story of a deaf girl in Germany and her experiences after Hitler passes a law allowing the state to euthanize the mentally or physically disabled. It’s short enough that saying much more would just start spoiling it for you.) For a time I started to somewhat agree with the negative reviews; by the end, however, I concluded that not one of them (at least, of those I read) had enough perspective to entirely back up their claims.
A few of them, of course, were just ridiculous. Verse novels are a thing, and T4 is a verse novel. Giving a verse novel a bad review for BEING a verse novel just makes you sound, well…stupid. (I really can’t come up with a better word, so it’s a good thing my kids are asleep–that’s a bad word at our house.) Quite a few more, however, complained about the language–they had issues with it not feeling poetic. (There were complaints that “hitting enter in the middle of a sentence doesn’t make a poem.” Lois Lowry is quoted on the front cover as saying “told with spare lyricism and haunting imagery,” and at least one of the reviews took issue with that. The author opens with a sort of forward in verse, beginning “Hear the voice of the Poet!”, and there were complaints about that. (I’ll admit, I didn’t think it fit terribly well, but at the end the author mentions modelling it after William Blake’s “Introduction,” the first poem in his Songs of Experience. Okay.) Some readers loved it, but overall, the majority seemed unimpressed with the book.
Here’s the thing. I spent a lot of the book questioning Lowry’s use of “spare lyricism”; I didn’t find the verse as poetic as I wanted it to be. When I got to the end, however, I read the ‘About the Author,’ which is where you learn that the author is deaf.
Let me repeat that–the author is deaf. As in, “completely deaf from a birth defect and illness.” She had a percentage of hearing in one ear during grade school, which made learning to speak and assimilating into hearing culture easier, but she spent years doing most of her communicating with a pad and pencil, and she learned ASL in her early twenties.
How does being deaf affect how one writes poetry? What is lyricism in a silent world? How does “speaking” (I have no idea what the proper term is) ASL affect one’s use of written language? (I know it’s a more blunt language than spoken English, for example.) A few of the negative reviews pointed out that the book is a bit agenda-y–the characters are less well developed than the issue–and they’ve probably got a valid point. The ones that complain about the style of its poetry? Unless the reviewers also happen to be deaf, I don’t see how they’re fully equipped to judge. (I certainly can’t bring myself to criticize the language.) I don’t know that the book is amazing, but it’s interesting, and clearly told, and it offers an unusual perspective on the Holocaust. I’d still call it good. As for you, well–you’ll have to decide for yourself. Ultimately, however, I think it’s worth your time.