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Book World; Of Triumphs Unspoken
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Washington, D.C.
Date: Mar 19, 1991
Start Page: c.03
Section: STYLE

[Ruth Sidransky]'s difficult situation seems blessed when compared with that of Ildefonso, the subject of [Susan Schaller]'s "A Man Without Words." When Schaller met Ildefonso, she was a young woman just out of college who, although neither deaf nor a linguist, had become fluent in sign language and worked part time as an interpreter. But she knew little about first-language acquisition in adults deprived of language as children - certainly not enough to know that many authorities considered their situation hopeless.

Over the next four months, Ildefonso learned his name, Schaller's name, hundreds of words, simple arithmetic and geometry, the concept of time and more. His determination and intelligence were remarkable, and when he and Schaller parted - he had to leave school to take a job - he was well on his way toward fluency. Still, when Schaller tracked Ildefonso down again, seven years later, she was astounded at his progress. Now a proud man with a good job, Ildefonso signed with "confident, fluid movements." Among his friends - also deaf, but still without language - he had become the "leader of the languageless clan."

"A Man Without Words" is structured like one of Oliver Sacks's well-known clinical tales - in fact, Sacks wrote the book's foreword, and he commented on Ildefonso's case in his own book on deafness, "Seeing Voices." Schaller, like Sacks, uses one person's situation as the key to a larger problem. As she describes Ildefonso's amazing transformation, she also explores the ways other children deprived of language acquire it as adults, and the reasons their plight has received so little attention. Her passionate, powerful book is both eloquent and elegant.

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