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Describes the life and challenges of Laura Bridgman, a deaf and blind woman who learned language 50 years before Helen Keller did and those who helped her including the founder of the Perkins Institute, with whom she was in love, and her beloved teacher. 25,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)

Presents a fictionalized account of the life and challenges of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind woman to learn language, and those who helped her, including the founder of the Perkins Institute, with whom she was in love, and her beloved teacher. - (Baker & Taylor)

New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Bookpage Best Books of 2014

Woman's Day "Most Inspirational Book of 2014"

Women's National Book Association Great Group Reads Pick for 2014

A vividly original literary novel based on the astounding true-life story of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person who learned language and blazed a trail for Helen Keller.

At age two, Laura Bridgman lost four of her five senses to scarlet fever. At age seven, she was taken to Perkins Institute in Boston to determine if a child so terribly afflicted could be taught. At age twelve, Charles Dickens declared her his prime interest for visiting America. And by age twenty, she was considered the nineteenth century's second most famous woman, having mastered language and charmed the world with her brilliance. Not since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has a book proven so profoundly moving in illuminating the challenges of living in a completely unique inner world.

With Laura-by turns mischievous, temperamental, and witty-as the book's primary narrator, the fascinating kaleidoscope of characters includes the founder of Perkins Institute, Samuel Gridley Howe, with whom she was in love; his wife, the glamorous Julia Ward Howe, a renowned writer, abolitionist, and suffragist; Laura's beloved teacher, who married a missionary and died insane from syphilis; an Irish orphan with whom Laura had a tumultuous affair; Annie Sullivan; and even the young Helen Keller.

Deeply enthralling and rich with lyricism, WHAT IS VISIBLE chronicles the breathtaking experiment that Laura Bridgman embodied and its links to the great social, philosophical, theological, and educational changes rocking Victorian America. Given Laura's worldwide fame in the nineteenth century, it is astonishing that she has been virtually erased from history. WHAT IS VISIBLE will set the record straight. - (Grand Central Pub)

Author Biography

Kimberly Elkins was a finalist for the National Magazine Award and has published fiction and nonfiction in the Atlantic, Best New American Voices, Iowa Review, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and Village Voice, among others. WHAT IS VISIBLE is her first novel. - (Grand Central Pub)

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Booklist Reviews

In this fictional treatment of the life of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person to learn language, Elkins aims to show "how little one can possess of what we think it means to be human while still possessing full humanity." After a raging bout of scarlet fever at the age of two, Laura loses her eyes, her hearing, and her ability to taste and smell. Taken from her family home by Dr. Samuel Howe and taught to communicate via hand spelling, Laura soon becomes a celebrated figure attracting hundreds to exhibitions at Howe's Perkins Institution, including Charles Dickens and Dorothea Dix. But Howe has his own agenda, using Laura to push both the causes of phrenology and anti-Calvinism. When Laura embraces the Baptist faith, she loses Howe's favor but never loses her fire. Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Howe, his poet wife, and Laura's beloved teacher, this is a complex, multilayered portrait of a woman who longed to communicate and to love and be loved. Elkins fully captures her difficult nature and her relentless pursuit of connection. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

Having lost every sense save touch to scarlet fever as a toddler, Laura Bridgman (1829–1889) captivated her contemporaries' imaginations by learning to communicate through finger spelling and writing, inspiring dolls, poetry, and even an essay by Charles Dickens, decades before Helen Keller was born. For all the fervor and news stories Laura generated at the time, though, there is no autobiography to tell us of her inner life, and few remember her story; debut novelist Elkins creates a fictional memoir to remedy those erasures. The audacious liberties Elkins takes—inventing a romance for Laura, taking great pains to highlight the most tragically ironic hypocrisies of her famous caregivers—make the story sometimes feel like a writer's exercise rather than a novel. However, Elkins does inspire the reader to imagine life experienced only through touch, and Laura's powerlessness to make her own decisions feels criminal rather than justifiable, even given her disabilities. VERDICT Fans of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will surely enjoy this novel for its peek inside another unconventional mind. Patrons interested in protagonists with disabilities, historical women's fiction, or LGBT romance will appreciate Elkins's original approach to each. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/14.]—Nicole R. Steeves, Chicago P.L.

[Page 66]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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