The title of this book, Train Go Sorry, is an English paraphrase of a saying in sign language, which basically means there was a missed connection somewhere. American Sign Language, ASL, is the basis of deaf culture, and both the culture and the language permeate this book. I loved reading it, and learning more about deaf culture, while reading about the stories of some very interesting people.
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This book centers on Lexington School for the Deaf, in New York. The author lived there for several years as a child, because her parents worked there. She is hearing, but her family has always maintained a connection with Lexington, and her father is now head of the school. The book focuses on the stories of a few people who are either deaf or involved with the deaf. Each chapter is devoted to one person. Some people, like Cohen's grandmother, get only one chapter. Others, like Lexington students James and Sofia, have stories that continue throughout the book. Even for these continuing stories, each chapter can be read alone, without reference to other chapters, and it will still work as a story. However, they still work together to create a whole, an interesting story that talks about what it means to be deaf in America.
This book is a good introduction to deaf culture. For anyone who doesn't know, there are many deaf people who do not consider being deaf a disability, but a minority culture. They have their own language, American Sign Language, their own schools, social clubs, theater groups, etc. This book showed me why deaf people consider their schools the center of their culture, the way the deaf culture is passed on. There were a lot of details about deaf culture, worked into the stories, like the way long goodbyes are common, and you introduce yourself by saying what school you went to. There was also an overall feel, a sense of what deaf culture felt like, though it was from an outsider's point of view, and I also got the feel of what it felt like to be an outsider, looking in.
The stories of the individual people in this book were all interesting and well written. Sofia and James, the two students the book focused on, were very different people, affected by their deafness in different ways. I felt that I got to know them over the course of the book. Sofia is a Russian Jewish immigrant, who lived in a residential Russian school for the deaf until her family came to the US, when she started attending a foreign language transition class at Lexington. After transferring to the regular high school, she was able to do so well that she now plans on attending Gallaudet. Her school experience, and family experiences are related, and I found her relationship with her hearing family, versus her deaf sister very interesting. James is from the Bronx, and it is not quite clear how he became deaf, though his mother says it is from a dog kissing him, and the doctors think that maybe it was bacterial meningitis. He was failing school and skipping class until he moved into the dorm at Lexington. After that he became an honors student, and rarely missed class. After graduating, he is going to a community college to learn a trade.
The book is very well written, with vivid visual descriptions, sometimes even descriptions of ASL signs. I could picture the places and people that were described very clearly. ASL is translated into English and written in Italics, so that the reader always knows what language is being spoken. The relationships between people, especially between hearing people and deaf people are shown in depth, and the divisions within families and within the school are clear. Right now there is a heated debate about how to educate deaf children. The subject is surrounded by politics, from the deaf militants who want only sign language taught, to those who advocate mainstreaming, placing deaf children in normal schools. This book talks about these issues, gives an understanding of them, but is never about them. It is about the deaf people themselves, and about their lives, not the politics of deaf education.
This is not a book you will be unable to put down because you are can't wait to see what happens next. But it is a book you will probably enjoy reading, and learning from. It is not a textbook, and it never feels like one. It is the story of life in a deaf school and a deaf world, and it is a wonderful, interesting story about a culture that very few people understand.