Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

11 Jul

Deaf Republic
In school, we learned about history’s atrocities and I’m sure I’m not the only child who thought, “Why didn’t people do more? Why didn’t they stand up and fight?” As an adult, it has become clear that things are not always so simple.

All around the world, there are wars, there are atrocities being committed, but yet…people go on with their daily lives. And if the horror is not visible, if it is not directly affecting someone, then most people tend to shove it to the back of their minds. It’s normal, no one likes to feel disquieted and uncomfortable. But is our silence just? That’s another story…

Ilya Kaminsky’s “Deaf Republic” begins with the following poem, titled “We Lived Happily During the War”:

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

Deaf Republic is a collection of poems woven together to form a narrative story, so those who usually aren’t too into poetry can still read this with ease. The story begins after the above poem: It is a time of unrest and violence in the fictional town of Vasenka. Soldiers come to town and kill a deaf boy. After the shot rings, the townspeople become deaf themselves. Consequently, they teach themselves sign language, which is illustrated throughout the book. The book is divided into two Acts. The first Act follows a newlywed couple, Alfonso and Sonya, while they are expecting their first child. The second Act follows Mama Galya, the head of the puppet theater, as she leads an insurgency against the military.

In “Deaf Republic”, we are confronted by silence in a myriad of ways. Silence in the face of oppressors can be powerful and defiant. (Citizens point to their ears as soldiers bark orders at them, they create their own sign language) Silence in the face of the oppressed can be devastating. (They take Alfonso / and no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.)

“Deaf Republic” is a powerful read. It is a beautifully written piece with verses that will make you gasp in amazement. And yes, it is unsettling. But I would argue that more than ever, we need to learn to make peace with the feeling of uneasiness. We need to look inward, as painful as that may be, and use that uneasiness and discomfort to go about making change. And that’s something I’m still trying to grapple with: often, the right thing to do is not easy.

At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this?
And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this?

Besides being available in print, Hoboken and other BCCLS patrons can borrow “Deaf Republic” as an ebook from eBCCLS.

Written by:
Samantha Evaristo
Hoboken Library Outreach Assistant

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