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The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa Paperback – September 4, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“I thought I knew about the Peace Corps until I read Josh Swiller's hilarious, troubling, and at times frightening recreation of his time in Zambia. His wit spares no one--least of all himself--and his generosity of spirit encompasses nearly everyone. His experiences in Africa transformed him, and this book will transform readers.” ―Laurence Bergreen, author of Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
“I was riveted by this book from page one. Swiller shouldn't have lived to tell this tale, much less been sent to a village in deepest Africa that the locals called 'Gomorrah.' But he did, and he's returned with something priceless: a story suffused with humor and love about a place where corruption and death were regular visitors. Swiller hears the rhythms of language and life far better than most people with two normal ears.” ―Michael Chorost, author of Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human
“As my mother used to say, ‘You got your listening ears on, bub?' This is not gimp chic, nor misery memoir, but a book as deserving, funny and brave as a deaf man digging wells in hardest Africa. Hoo boy. And I thought being blind at the bus depot was harrowing. Yeesh.” ―Ryan Knighton, author of Cockeyed: A Memoir
“Josh Swiller was 22 and profoundly deaf when he applied to the Peace Corps in search of adventure. And indeed, adventure he found. His experiences in Zambia are eloquently recounted in his hard-to-put-down memoir of deafness and Africa, 'The Unheard'.” ―The New York Times, Health section
“Several ingredients are crucial in a memoir like this: humor, the ability to see enough details to make the scene come alive and a dispassionate compassion. Swiller has them all.” ―Los Angeles Times
“[Swiller's] appealing, intelligent narrative serves both as a coming of age story and as a penetrating light into one corner of a tormented continent.” ―Washington Post
“Josh Swiller rewrites the familiar African narrative with a purity that makes the tragic beauty of that devastated continent a stunning novelty for readers. We experience the rich, tangible passions of love, honor and revenge in Africa, amplified a thousandfold in the quiet world of the deaf.” ―New York Observer
Top Customer Reviews
The story of Josh's departure from Munungu was never fully revealed to me until reading the book. Like all government-related organizations, Peace Corps is great at keeping secrets and rumors always abound. Josh and I were not close but we did bond a bit after he returned to Kabwe and was once again teaching the deaf students. It was only upon reading the book that I gained an appreciation for his intellect and the really horrible experiences he had in Munungu. At Peace Corps meetings or functions, he always seemed distracted, not interested, withdrawn. After reading the book, my eyes are opened to what the guy endured up there in Munungu and what being deaf is really all about.
I pre-ordered the book, with low expectations. Basically, I was concerned about what he may have said about me. What I did not expect was the clarity and smooth-flow of the narrative, the exceptional descriptors of characters ("voice like firecrackers" comes to mind), the entirely accurate desriptions of life in a bush village. A lot of what he wrote brought tears to my eyes, as I had experienced similar things in my own village of Lukwesa. Plus, I knew or had met a lot of the people he talks about in the book.Read more ›
Swiller was part of the first group of Volunteers to work in Zambia in 1994. Creating water and sanitation systems were the primary objective; educating and motivating the local people was the rationale. Getting villagers to dig wells turned out to be a bigger challenge than Swiller had anticipated. Local politics, tribal strife and natural distrust of outsiders undermined any initiative from the start. It did not help that the Peace Corps rules insisted on no money being brought into such a project. The local people who had never seen a white person, assumed "Ba Josh" to be wealthy but too mean spirited to share his money with them.
Life for the villagers was hard. Periods of hunger during the dry season alternated with an onslaught of flooding and disease during the rainy season. The small clinic was understaffed and completely inadequate in dealing even with the most basic services. Swiller's description of village life is vivid and his sensitive portrayal of the people he shares his time with is personal and realistic.Read more ›
1. A real story. Powerful material. No flowery travelogue here, no do-gooder cliches.
2. This guy can write. Pithy and unsentimental style; characters and scenes spring vividly to life.
3. And I can't emphasize this enough: Swiller is genuinely funny, with an spot-on sense of comic timing.
Highly recommended, an engaging and satisfying read.
Josh Swiller's memoir, The Unheard, tells the story of his two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mununga, a dusty Zambian village home to tribal factions and a host of refugees from neighboring Zaire. Deaf since childhood, Josh was raised by devoted parents who trained him to speak and lip-read with the assistance of hearing aids. Raised to fit into the hearing world, he attended Yale but encountered feelings of isolation and frustration toward heavily-accented professors who spoke into chalkboards. In graduate school at Gallaudet University, he attempted to immerse himself in a new Deaf community but discovered that he was just as isolated in a world that spoke exclusively American Sign Language. So Josh went to Africa to find "a place past deafness."
After a ten-week training course, Josh was off to inspire a sense of community ownership in Mununga, with a charter to organize the villagers to build their first community infrastructure: wells to provide fresh water to the disease-ridden community. The villagers, led by politicians whose primary concern was getting their rake of the banana wine production, were perplexed that the white man didn't have the money and power to give them a well. Politicians had deep-seated tribal affairs to sort out and were suspicious of Josh's motives in offering "help" to the community without bringing along cash and resources. Josh writes of the plight of the Africans with a voice of introspection and humor. His teaching experience required navigating "an educational system based, apparently, on the principles of unlimited recess." By keeping the tone light, Josh conveys profound insights with nary a trace of pity for himself or the economically ravaged country.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The Unheard is gritty and real, told with wry humor and insight. Swiller's exploration of his relationship to deafness is beguiling. Read morePublished 11 months ago by La Malaise
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. A profoundly deaf man goes to Africa to help, and finds things there are much easier and much harder. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Maddalena
Great book. Read it for a class, but was a good read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.Published 17 months ago by any
I worked with Josh Swiller this past year and it was only as I was leaving employment that another co-worker told me of this book Josh had written. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Andrew Palm
I'm actually still reading this book but I had the pleasure of meeting the author and can sort of relate since I am a sibling of a deaf adult and have been a professional in cued... Read morePublished on July 22, 2014 by Juli
Josh Swiller tells the story of being deaf in a country of warfare, disease, corrupted government and a loving but very different community. Read morePublished on June 27, 2014 by Sarah Katz
This story provided an understanding of the Deaf school in Africa, the African view of deafness, and the African view of Americans.Published on May 26, 2014 by Jessica Kales