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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Possible meanings of "deaf and blind" in Vapnyar's NYer story

Lara Vapnyar's story in current New Yorker, Deaf and Blind, brings us to her familiar territory, Moscow in the late Soviet era, and she accounts in first person a friendship between narrator's mother and a very beautiful Russian intellectual, a philosophy prof of some sort (the mother is also an intellectual and holds a doctorate, but is decidedly less glamorous, to the chagrin of the daughter, as the narrator relates, looking back from her own adulthood). Both women are in bad and doomed relationships: the mother's because she just plain does not love her husband enough, she's kind of indifferent to him; the friend's because her husband dotes on her too extensively. Strangely, the friend announces that she is having an affair and has fallen in love with a famous philosopher who, as the title indicates, is both blind and deaf. It's hard for the narrator and her family to fathom how this love began and how it could endure - and it's hard for us, too. What draws this beautiful woman to such a difficult and charged relationship? We have to think, first, that something in her likes being so needed, the only source of communication between this man and the world, the one who literally communicates all of his brilliant ideas (he is a philosopher of perception, interestingly); second, perhaps she is drawn to someone who does not fall in love w/ her because of her beauty? The story builds to the scene where the woman comes to dinner at narrator's mother's Moscow apartment; the visit is less fraught and awkward than we might expect - the couple seem to be very much in love and, as communicated by mother's friend, the man sense true love and feeling in this family. So maybe the translator is lying; how would we know? In any event his misses that the family - grandma, mother, narrator - is being wrenched apart by narrator's father's indifference to his daughter: constantly trying to arrange get-togethers almost all of which fail to materialize. It's obvious that there are more important things, to him, in his life - and another climactic moment, in this sub-plot, is when the narrator tells the father that she can't make one of his proposed dates. I'm wondering if there is some metaphorical significance to this domestic tale; perhaps being deaf and blind is characteristic of so many relationships among those who can see and can hear. Perhaps being deaf and blind is also characteristic of the late days of the Soviet Union - the government oblivious to its imminent collapse.

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