Deaf Repub­lic

Ilya Kamin­sky

January 1, 2013

Ilya Kaminsky’s aston­ish­ing para­ble in poems asks us, What is silence?

Deaf Repub­lic opens in an occu­pied coun­try in a time of polit­i­cal unrest. When sol­diers break­ing up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gun­shot becomes the last thing the cit­i­zens hear―they all have gone deaf, and their dis­sent becomes coor­di­nat­ed by sign lan­guage. The sto­ry fol­lows the pri­vate lives of towns­peo­ple encir­cled by pub­lic vio­lence: a new­ly mar­ried cou­ple, Alfon­so and Sonya, expect­ing a child; the brash Mom­ma Galya, insti­gat­ing the insur­gency from her pup­pet the­ater; and Galya’s girls, hero­ical­ly teach­ing sign­ing by day and by night lur­ing sol­diers one by one to their deaths behind the cur­tain. At once a love sto­ry, an ele­gy, and an urgent plea, Ilya Kaminsky’s long-await­ed Deaf Repub­lic con­fronts our time’s vicious atroc­i­ties and our col­lec­tive silence in the face of them.

Discussion Questions

Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Repub­lic is an alle­gor­i­cal tale of resis­tance. After sol­diers mur­der Petya, a deaf child in Vasen­ka, the entire town becomes deaf. The towns­peo­ple orga­nize against the sol­diers using sign lan­guage, which is repro­duced in the text. Deaf Repub­lic reminds read­ers that apa­thet­ic silence” in the face of atroc­i­ty is an act of priv­i­lege: The deaf don’t believe in silence. Silence is the inven­tion of the hear­ing.” This is a book that hon­ors his­toric acts of resilience while also shat­ter­ing con­tem­po­rary complacency.