The first novel ever written about Laura Bridgman, a deaf-blind person who was considered the nineteenth century's second most famous woman-and who blazed the trail for Helen Keller.
Laura Bridgman was the first deaf and blind person to learn language-fifty years before Helen Keller. Laura also couldn't taste or smell; she lost all senses but touch from a bout with scarlet fever at age two. Not since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has a book so illuminated the challenges of living in a completely unique inner world.
WHAT IS VISIBLE moves among multiple voices, with Laura as the book's primary narrator; the founder of Perkins Institute, with whom Laura was in love; his wife, a famous writer, abolitionist and suffragist; Laura's beloved teacher, who married a missionary and died insane from syphilis; an orphaned Irish girl with whom Laura had a tumultuous affair; and even the young Helen Keller. At the center of it all is the breathtaking experiment that Laura Bridgman embodied and its links to the great philosophical, theological, educational and social changes taking place between 1840 and 1890. Since Laura was considered the second most famous woman in the world in the nineteenth century (second only to Queen Victoria), it is astonishing that she has been virtually erased from history. WHAT IS VISIBLE will set the record straight.
WHAT IS VISIBLE is remarkable at many levels. It is written in an intelligent, intricate style, populated with many true historical figures, and teeming with convincing period details. Above all, the novel has a unique narrative structure, which illustrates the art of fiction at its best in presenting the interior. A splendid debut indeed. - Ha Jin, National Book Award Winner for Waiting