If a Tree Falls: A Family's Quest to Hear and be Heard
by Jennifer Rosner

The Feminist Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-558-61662-2.
Reviewed by Jennifer Melville
Posted on 07/19/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships; Nonfiction: Body Language

Jennifer Rosner was caught by surprise when her first daughter was born deaf. How would she establish a relationship with her child? How would her daughter learn about and enjoy the world around her, and how would the world treat her? Rosner soon discovered that deafness had deep roots in her family tree. She began to dig into her ancestry and learn more about how hearing loss tied together generations of women. When her second child was born deaf as well, she continued her journey through the world of modern deafness. This memoir is the story of a mother's journey to help her daughters hear, and also learn to hear and understand her children.

Her prologue sums up her story well:

For a long time, I thought this story began with my daughter's birth, or just a few hours later, when we learned that she might not hear. But the questions of not hearing began long before her, before me. A string, fragile and thin, a cilia strand, a helix, twists its way back in time to Brooklyn, New York, and before that, to tiny shtetls, specks on the maps of Eastern Europe. For generations, the line has been frayed and tattered.

I chose this book because I love family history and the intricate ways generations of lives intertwine. I was a bit disappointed that Rosner's stories about ancestors were not based on fact, but rather her imagination. They were beautiful, meaningful, and creative, but they were still fiction. I think this book would have been more powerful if she'd been able to uncover her ancestor's true stories and had included those in her book.

If a Tree Falls is an enjoyable read and brought me deep into the world of modern deafness. I learned a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed Rosner's potent writing style. I admire Rosner for the strength it takes to raise her deaf daughters in a hearing world, and enjoyed every moment of their story. If a Tree Falls should make a great many people more aware of the deaf world. While I wish Rosner could have tied in a bit more fact-based stories about her deaf ancestors, this is still a fantastic book and an enjoyable read.

Jennifer Rosner's writing has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, The Faster Times, Wondertime magazine, and the Hastings Center Report. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University and is editor of The Messy Self. Rosner lives in Massachusetts with her family. Visit her website.

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