A memoir of the remarkable relationship between a young, single woman and the wild, beautiful deaf boy who, for a time, took the place of the son she’d lost, A THOUSAND VOICES is a song of love and grief and a profound meditation on the limits—and the limitlessness—of human language.
His name was Carlos. Carlos Louis Salazar. And when his mother had troubles, I more or less stole him. Or that’s what I always said. He was the son I wanted, and I did get him for a while.
So begins A THOUSAND VOICES. It traces the grand adventure, the whimsy, the confusion and sorrow of one boy’s third of a century, recounted by the woman who teaches him and takes him in. The friendship is filled with equal parts joy and adversity as Carlos, the young, deaf man at its center, struggles to find a purpose and place in the world. But at its deepest level, A THOUSAND VOICES stays a love story about language.
The story unfolds against the rich imagery of Utah’s high deserts and snow-swept mountains, the alpine forests of Idaho, and the wide boulevards of Montreal in the last decades of the last century.
Jeri meets Carlos in Utah when he is ten and she is twenty-four. They interest each other. He is wild-hearted and free-spirited, traits she applauds in herself and has only slightly subdued. He is a hellion; so was she. There are differences as well, and they point to the underlying themes of the book. He doesn’t know language; she teaches it. He was born deaf; she could always hear. He lives in a low-lying part of town she has never ventured into; she is up in the foothills, across several economic strata. Where his opportunities are circumscribed by ethnic background as well as economic disadvantage, hers are wide open.
Their acquaintance becomes an indispensable connection for both of them. She helps him learn to talk. In turn, she finds Carlos has much to teach her, and their communication is marked by a nuance, grace, and richness beyond words.
Jeri raises Carlos until he is fourteen when their adventures grow fewer as Carlos moves through his stormy teenage years. In his adolescence, he fathers a child he cannot raise, pursues self-destructive release in drugs, stealing, and fighting. The two weather that bewildering and in some ways devastating time, and Jeri stands by him as friend and guardian when the struggle for his life overtakes everything.
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