Song Without Words

Discovering My Deafness Halfway through Life


By Gerald Shea

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Much has been written about the profoundly deaf, but the lives of the nearly 30 million partially deaf people in the United States today remain hidden. Song without Words tells the astonishing story of a man who, at the age of thirty-four, discovered that he had been deaf since childhood, yet somehow managed to navigate his way through Andover, Yale, and Columbia Law School, and to establish a prestigious international legal career.

Gerald Shea’s witty and candid memoir of how he compensated for his deafness — through sheer determination and an amazing ability to translate the melody of vowels. His experience gives fascinating new insight into the nature and significance of language, the meaning of deafness, the fierce controversy between advocates of signing and of oral education, and the longing for full communication that unites us all.




IN THE BEGINNING I HEARD THEIR VOICES WITH clarity. The days of my early childhood are distant now, but the comfort of the words of those I loved is engraved in my memory. We had just bought a large house on top of a hill in Riverdale, north of Manhattan. I remember the singing in the garden, so many birds, music instead of the early morning horns and sirens that had breached the walls and windows of our apartment in the city. I heard the birds that morning too, outside my window, urging me to stay home from school and listen all day. I was six years old. I woke up tired and, in spite of the music, did not want to venture out nor to make the long walk down the hill. I pretended to be sick. The family doctor came and announced that “the boy has the chicken pox”—I’d fooled him! He returned a day later and said, “The boy has scarlet fever.”

In fact, I had both, and the next fourteen days were a battleground of fever and infection, along with an erupting mass of rashes and poxes, mostly red, periodically puffing into large white boils. Every other morning a nurse came, took a needle out of her small black bag, and lanced the latest litter. I was separated from my three brothers and lived in my parents’ bedroom, while they took the guest room beside it. I still remember the approaching footsteps of Mrs. Pearce, and I imagine her today as the attractive, unassuming nurse who cuts off the thumbs of Willem Dafoe in The English Patient—doh cuh be doh tuh don’t cut me. The boils were afraid of her, too, and showed it in a throbbing crescendo as she approached the top step.

My first day up, when I looked in the mirror, the face I saw seemed someone else’s; I had to strain to distinguish the eyes, the nose, and the mouth from all the other holes around them, as if the dots were there to be connected to find them. When I went downstairs to breakfast, my father, who had delayed going to work until I appeared, gave me an enormous hug and a kiss on each pitted cheek.

“Jack—” said Mother.

“I can’t go back to school, Daddy,” I said. “I don’t ever want to go back to school.”

Up to that point in my life, my father had been a distant authority, like a judge you had to please for his regard or, if you had broken a window or locked your baby brother in his room, to make a reasoned or at least contrite appeal if you wanted to escape confinement to your bedroom. But to my astonishment he said, smiling, that I would never have to go back to school unless I wanted to. It was the last time he would take me in his arms.

By the end of four more weeks the scars had faded, and I decided to return to school, my father never having raised the question again. What none of us knew was that the real battle had been a covert one, waged in the cochlea, the most complex, sensitive, and vulnerable component of the ear. I had in fact won part of the battle against scarlet fever, for a number of epithelial cells (hair cells) in the cochlea of both of my ears emerged relatively intact. Many other people have lost the fight, recovering only to find themselves profoundly deaf, including Alexander Graham Bell’s mother; his wife, Mabel; his celebrated protégée, Helen Keller; and her precursor in Boston, Laura Bridgman. Illnesses left virtually all of their epithelial cells dead or moribund.

My epithelial cells for some reason managed to remain alive and unaffected in the cochlea’s winding upper paths, which give us low-frequency sounds. But most consonants and some vowels (ee, ih, ah) gradually faded to softness, as the epithelial cells in the lower part of the cochlea declined. While Mrs. Pearce was popping the boils, the fever was permanently wilting these cells in my ears. Unlike certain regenerative or self-repairing parts of the human body, like fingernails, bones, and the liver, when these cells wilt, they never grow back.

Prior to my illness the sounds of crickets, birds, and water were unmistakably clear and distinguishable, and like the early voices of those I loved, they are fixed in my memory. But as the pockmarks faded, my young life was transformed into a mysterious play in reverse, shaped by the slow descent of an invisible curtain creating a quieter world—and isolating me within it. The following summer, on the North Shore of Massachusetts, at my grandfather’s house at Marblehead’s Main Harbor, birdsongs were thinning out and the sounds of crickets growing dim, though they, the wind, and the waves were also acquiring new voices for me. As the absence of consonants in my playmates’ words turned them into mysteries, those voices of nature were my new acquaintances, short-lived but graced with a fading, irresolvable beauty.

Along with the ephemeral voices of wind and wave come the lyricals produced by speech. These are what I call the transitional words, wrong words, and often nonwords that, in lieu of those actually spoken, register in the minds of the partially deaf. Lyricals show us the way to the right ones. When I finally returned to school, I wasn’t conscious of any change, just increasingly tentative about what people were trying to say. I slid gradually into a particular world, though I thought it one that everyone else experienced exactly as I did.

“Gerry, you have nothing to work with. Come get a plaa bencer.”

“What—?” bencer pencer

“Up here, on the table beside the maa more.” The box near the maa more, the blackboard, was full of pencers pencils. I took a blue one.

“No. Paa.”





“Sorry, sorry. Black.”

For me, spoken words were a riddle I assumed everyone had to figure out, an exercise we all had to practice in order to understand the spoken language of others. I was to live with this assumption, to believe in it, for almost three decades. I am sure that my mother’s words when I was a child were magically clear, spoken in close intimacy. In later life I could always hear women in proximity, facing me, in the light, speaking softly. But the words of most people—teachers and professors in classrooms, children in a courtyard, characters on a stage, actors in a movie, and lawyers and bankers sitting around a table—were all puzzles to be solved. I believed others had to solve them too but were simply better at it than I.

As a child I remained happy in the halfway world that scarlet fever created, though I knew not “factor” from “tractor” from “actor” from “sacked her,” and so on, except by context and lips and the sounds of most vowels. But this sheltered happiness was short-lived. My father, who had been so concerned about my own health, would die of a rheumatic heart less than a year later. Mother bustled us into St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where we saw him for the last time, pale and thin and lying in an oxygen tent. I don’t recall his saying anything—just his smile. I can’t imagine today what he was thinking as he looked through his own invisible curtain at Mother and at us, his four children—Patrick, George, myself, and John, ages two, four, six, and eight—and contemplated our future without him.



I LOVE MY LANGUAGE OF LYRICALS, MY SECOND TONGUE. When others speak, I, and millions of others like me, hear only the contours of an elusive language to which, in the rapid course of conversation, we endeavor to give meaning. The words of our language, its lyricals, are formed by the stream of high-pitched vowels that must be translated back into the words that were actually spoken. The transitions stir the imagination with nonexistent places and people, like the Doubtful Asphodels not found on any library shelves of Nabokov’s prose. Though lyricals usually show the way to the commonplace expressions of other voices, their path can also take an uncharted course where the spoken “what’ll happen after Nora leaves” becomes the lyrical water happens after coral reefs, and “her way of speaking gently” yields arrays of seas he lent me.

I don’t remember grammar school as being academically difficult, in spite of my confusion over what people were saying. Writing and arithmetic were not complicated, and I could do both rather well even if questions and answers passed me by in the classroom. I could still hear most vowels (low-frequency sounds) and a few consonants (high-frequency). My lyricals were born of the sounds that were left. Lipreading, with varying degrees of proficiency, is a talent naturally acquired by partially deaf children and those who become partially deaf years or decades later, provided they retain useful residual hearing, as I have. The speech we do hear, the lips we see, and the context we discern give us a mix of words and lyricals that lead us, gradually, as our minds race through them, to the speaker’s words and thus to his ideas.

There is an immense linguistic distance between children born profoundly or severely deaf, to whom spoken language is out of reach at all frequencies, and those who, like me, lose only part of their hearing after they have acquired fluent speech. If a child is able to hear half-words, or half of the words, he will turn naturally to lyricals. If not, he will rely just as naturally on his eyes and his hands—on sign language. If you cannot hear at all, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to learn to speak well, for the ear is in effect an organ of speech as well as of hearing.

Everyone needs—it is a universal need—to be able to use his own language, the one in which he can most effectively express himself and understand others. Very few prelingually deaf people are able to speak with any degree of clarity, and even they arrive at that point only after painstaking effort and years and years of dedicated help from parents, speech therapists, and others. They are able to make themselves understood by the hearing only with difficulty and not at all by the deaf, whether those who sign or those who read lips. The deaf child thus naturally turns to sign, in which he can express his own thoughts and understand the ideas of others as immediately as the hearing do when they speak and listen.

When I heard new words for the first time after returning to school, I would listen carefully and focus on the blackboard and the word lists in a grammar book (“opaque,” “prism”) or labels on a map (“Caribbean,” “Hebrides”). If there was a general silence, I could still guess at the consonants when spoken, and I could sometimes read them on the teacher’s lips if there was a good light. I knew how the consonants were pronounced, and, of course, I could say them myself since I had been speaking for five years. When that didn’t occur, I’d let the new word go and try to find out what it was later, though of course the word was then used in lyrical-studded sentences in which whole phrases could be missing.

The meter of our tongue can be helpful too, and I’m sure I used its clues as a child time and again. For example, the triple spondee of vowels euh oh ay is all confusion. But the dactylic expression be airful washing the trees rather easily becomes “be careful crossing the street.” If that phrase has been spoken immediately following euh oh ay, the longer phrase’s lyricals, born largely of its meter, readily transform the spondee into “look both ways!”

For children like me, blackboards and other visual aids are critical instruments of learning, as are books accompanying speech, cards around the upper walls of the classroom with letters and words, reading primers, a seat in the front of the room. But above all the problem needs to be identified, as mine was not. Along with the other students entering the first grade in Riverdale, I was given a hearing test; this was a few months before I contracted scarlet fever. I remember the very large earphones, made for the enormous heads of grown-ups, put on my head, and I recall pressing a button at the sounds of beeps and bells. But whether as a result of neglect or inattention or custom, it was the only test I would have until, almost by chance, I finally had another one at age thirty-three.

I welcomed many of the classroom visual aids in grammar school, though my silent world remained invisible. I learned to laugh often, to sing (musical notes in the lower ranges are far more audible than consonants and do not carry a precise message), to speak as often and as long as I could, to enjoy the clarity of my own voice (you always know what you’re saying), and to puzzle through the obscurity of others. My own spoken and singing voice and the lyricals of others thus became my language, as they are today. Elocution helped, too. I loved our elocution teacher in the second grade, Mrs. Moroni, spelled like the legendary Mormon angel. Her voice appeared to emanate from her enormous bosom, which, when showing us how to recite poetry, she thrust forth with each beat to punctuate her trumpeted dactyls and spondees. She would bounce them (the spondees) off the blackboards: “I’M an a-MERican, YES SIR REE, and it’s a WONderful PRIVilege DAD TELLS ME!” and “ABu ben ADhem aWOKE ONE NIGHT [unsurprisingly] from a DEEP DREAM of PEACE!”

Music was always present in clear, lovely lows. The winter after my father died, we were shown a movie at school about a whale who sang opera—a miracle, really, because whales have no larynx and breathe through an aperture at the top of their head. Undaunted, this whale managed to sing a number of arias throughout the film, though I remember only one, “Figaro,” which I thought was his name. He would sing above water, dive under, breach, spray, turn over on his back, and keep on singing, enchanting the Italian sailors, who, ordered by their captain to harpoon him, danced instead to la la la Figaro, ha ho ha he he ho, ha ah oh Figaro, la lo la dee dee doe, tortela dee dee doe, tortela be be doe, tortela dee dee doe, oh ta ta ta—my version of “ah bravo Figaro, bravo bravissimo, ah bravo Figaro, bravo bravissimo, fortunatissimo, fortunatissimo, fortunatissimo per verità!

The film was a fantasy created by music-loving animators at the Disney studios during World War II to keep themselves occupied while not working on propaganda films. It was a heavenly production, an enchanting dream until, at the end, poor Figaro was finally harpooned and sent to heaven. The image of the whale stays with me still: his happiness and the way music, even without violins, high winds, and overtones, can take you over, hold your attention, stay in your head, and keep you smiling—long after your return to the mumbled mysteries of the classroom—and singing even as you come home and as you put your head on the pillow at night.

My father’s last present to me was a radio in the shape of a house. I kept it for years and loved it both for its origin and for the mysteries that emerged from its peaked red roof, white walls, and green shutters, all made of wood. I never understood my house’s offerings of plots or words, but I recognized all the programs and the principals’ voices (Sky King, the Green Hornet, Sergeant Preston, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and others). I could pick their respective vowels out in a split second, but the words were generally not there, other than stock phrases like “You’re under arrest in the name of the queen!”

The Lone Ranger, too, appeared in my house of mysteries and then on television: the man who wore the black mask over his eyes and shot silver bullets. I never understood what the Lone Ranger was doing, but he looked terrific on TV, and his opponents were clearly up to no good. It was reassuring to see him, unlike the hapless Figaro, prevailing over his enemies week after week. But for me the real message of The Lone Ranger, what I waited for each week and throughout the program’s mumbling images of heroes and villains, was the end, when he rode to the blaring winds, booming basses, and beating drums of an orchestra playing “The William Tell Overture.” This was the part to look forward to every time, the part I could understand, as it showed how well and how fast he could ride to the music of the just. He was the second of my two Rossini heroes: the one with the mask and the snow-white horse, who lived in wide-open spaces.

It is hard to say whether my hearing was better in grade school than in high school or college, or whether I had to use lyricals increasingly as time went by. My unnamed lyricals were a natural part of my life, and I never took their measure. I had several sensitive teachers, yet all I remember from our personal encounters are degrees of puzzlement. In the sixth grade I wrote a poem about the beauty of something—of mayflowers or the Virgin or both—I don’t recall. It was ungrammatical, but I thought it worked. Two nuns puzzled over it and asked me to come up and discuss the words with them. They spoke in confusing sentences that were more complex than the poem itself: “Where to you be here, Gerry, ‘so near as beautiful’—clearly as beautiful?” clearly nearly—where do you be here what do you be you mean? Another teacher took me aside one day into an adjacent, empty classroom because, she said, I seemed to be drifting, lost somewhere: “To you wah do dah about it?Do you want to talk about it? She wasn’t concerned about academics but about where my mind was at these times. I imagine I was trying to figure words out, or taking a break from doing so, or going back over them—I don’t know. But I was surprised by the interview, which left me in tears.

People at a distance were always impossible to understand. On Sunday mornings the prayers of the congregation, said collectively aloud, were to me a mumbling, over and over again, throughout the church, of what sounded like pissa pissa tumity (blessed is the fruit of thy—?). After a time, I began to recite it aloud in order to talk like the rest of the faithful, until an angry lady with a black-dotted veil attached to her dowdy dark beret turned around and told me to stop. Perhaps, I thought, I was too young to pray. Priests’ sermons were always streams of piously intoned unfathomables, but I would listen to the nonsense and search for enlightenment in the timbre of their voices.

The mysteries pervaded lay assemblies too. The year after my father died, toward the end of summer camp in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, the director, William Bentley, stood on a stage outside with a campfire blazing and told us all a story about a golden arm. His narrative was a parade of meaningless words. Near the end of the story he held the golden arm in his own. Where the arm came from, whose it was, what it signified, whether it had once been a real arm or was a prosthetic arm that had been found somewhere in the camp, perhaps by Mr. Bentley himself, whether in some remote part of the world people had golden arms and this was a specimen, and why Mr. Bentley was telling us this crazy story in the first place, I had no idea, though I jumped along with everyone else when, for some reason, he let it drop at the end, and it bounced on the stage with an 80-decibel BAM Klump Klump!

On the afternoon of the next day I was nervously poised as a base runner, with a lead off third. It was the final inning of the final game of the year for the camp’s Blues against our opponents, the Grays, so designated I suppose in a nod to the Civil War. (Get ready for the next war, boys!) Our Blues batter hit a long fly ball to the outfield. I was seven years old and unsure of the rules, though I knew it became complicated when such fly balls were hit. I had no idea what to do. My teammates jumped off the bench and ran toward me, pointing in both directions shouting kah saa! kah saa! I could run fast, and I was all legs (but no experience), so I may even have been put on that base for that reason.

But I was more or less stuck in place, my feet doing a rapid tap dance as I pondered the meaning of kah saa!, not knowing which way to go, wondering whether the other boys were shouting at me in some unknown language—a special, secret Blues’ baseball vocabulary, perhaps, or even the tribal language (how did they know it?) of the far-off men with the golden arms. Alas, I was tagged out before I could decipher their words—“Tag up!” The event ended the game, but I was among the younger campers, and it became the baseball play we all laughed about in the waning days of the summer.

The power of gesture was always there, in one form or another. One cabinmate in Wolfeboro wet the bed, and dawn after dawn he had to sit outside the cabin alone to play sentry to his soggy mattress for half an hour or so as it dried. I couldn’t bear to see him there, finally wet my own bed, and joined him. At school a boy just in front of me constantly fainted while we were standing in class, pledging allegiance or hailing Mary or something or other, and it became my responsibility, if he started to fall, to catch him. I promptly started fainting myself on my own separate schedule. These were considered laudable (or at least empathetic) acts by camp counselors and teachers alike.

But these efforts, I think, were no more than alternative, subconscious ways of communication, of making good friends. At the end of the summer, in front of the whole camp Mr. Bentley held his real arms over my head, as he did over the heads of two other finalists, calling for applause in a popularity contest. I won—and was happy but genuinely surprised. My relationships with everyone were shrouded in mystery, and so, I imagined, were theirs with me. But my efforts to cement them exhibited a certain guileless innocence that everyone recognized and, to my astonishment, helped me to win their hearts. I became dependent on the hearing, unknowingly and affectionately, and they loved me for it.

Still, deafness is an invisible affliction, partial deafness even more so. Thus no one—not Mother, not my brothers, nor I myself—had any idea that I could not hear well. My struggles with lyricals remained private not because I thought them a secret but because I was sure that that was the way the whirl quirks the girl shirks the world works. To add to the confusion, my ephemeral friends—the clouds, the wind, and the waves—were competing with preternatural sounds of locusts—a buzzing and ringing in my ears that came out of nowhere. The locusts were immortal, buzzing day and night in the summer, fall, winter, and spring.

The sound of real locusts is so overwhelming that a theory of their origin can be found in Greek mythology. Socrates tells Phaedrus how locusts came to exist. Certain men were so seduced by the Muses they decided to take up singing themselves all the time; they were so entranced that they failed to remember to eat or drink and died of their forgetfulness. Their descendants, the locusts, sing from birth to death in need of little else. The dissonant locusts of my inner ears need no sustenance other than my heartbeat. But they are sounds, not creatures, and born of infection. They are of no evolutionary transitional value, and they are here to stay.

The English-speaking world onomatopoetically calls these sounds “tinnitus” (usually pronounced “TIN-a-tiss”). The French call it bourdonnement, the Italians ronzio: both meaning “buzzing in the ears.” The Germans call tinnitus orhenklingen, “ringing in the ears.” Characterizing his bad health as an “evil demon,” Beethoven complained as a young man that his ears “buzz and ring day and night.” Emmanuelle Laborit, the deaf French actress who won the Prix Molière for the French version of the play Children of a Lesser God, says that she hears a high-pitched hissing or whistling (sifflements). “I think,” she writes, “they come from elsewhere, from outside of me, but no, these are my sounds, it is only I who hear them. I am noise within and silence without.” Tinnitus is anything but musical; Socrates must have confused his locusts with their seducers.

Tinnitus can afflict both the profoundly deaf and the hearing impaired, and those without hearing loss as well. Approximately fifty million Americans have tinnitus to some degree. Sixteen million of us have tinnitus severe enough to seek medical attention for it; about two million are so seriously affected that they are unable to function effectively on a day-to-day basis. Some think tinnitus is produced by the efferent fibers of the acoustic nerve, which in healthy ears supplement sound by carrying signals in reverse, from the brain to the ear. I don’t remember exactly when these dissonant sounds came into my world, though beginning with the postscarlet summers of my childhood at Marblehead’s Main Harbor, they were to me the sounds of dragonflies, visible and invisible; in the fall in Riverdale they were the wind; in the winter the falling snow; in the spring the rustling of new leaves. They are the sounds of silence, most audible when all else is quiet.

As I began to understand that the clouds, the wind, and the waves were voiceless, I found other companions, spoke to them, listened to them carefully, and had no need for lyricals. I would let no earthly being interfere with them, for they were angels and saints. On the way back from school I would listen to my guardian angels. I had several, and they seemed to work shifts. Like policemen, they had no names; they were there to see me home. I talked to them, and they made their thoughts known to me—about the day, a class, a teacher, a friend, where my father was, where Figaro was. In the morning and evening my interlocutors were saints. The Virgin if I had lost something. Theresa of Lisieux if I were at Mass, particularly in Main Harbor, where Our Lady Star of the Sea Church was graced with her statue. I whispered to her during the three quiet hours of the Good Friday service, when I would sit or kneel before her, silent but for the rustling spring leaves in my head.

My saints and angels didn’t really speak to me but uttered their thoughts voicelessly, and I in turn would reply. John Locke wrote that without spoken words—what he called the “signs” of our ideas—our thoughts lay trapped within us, hidden from others. But the silent thoughts of angels and saints were not hidden from me. Look here for the baseball glove; cross the street there. When I would pray in the evening to the statue of the Infant of Prague in my bedroom, I would whisper to him, another child, and listen to what he had to say. My mother’s parents had died not long after my father—death seemed to be everywhere—and it was this thirty-inch statue that I chose from among my grandparents’ affairs and clung to. I shared the room with my older brother, John. He would mock these quiet sessions, as I tried to disregard his laughter. Finally, I would give up and laugh along with him. But the saints and angels were always there, circling, teaching me about the world—my faithful, voiceless, spiritual friends.


  • “Both a work of literary art and a manual for understanding the difficult world Shea inhabits…Readers are lucky that Shea took the time to write this masterful memoir, which brings us into a hidden world so few have ever visited. Song without Words proves that memoir, at its lyrical best, can be a truly wonderful and inspirational literary genre.”

    Charleston Post and Courier, 2/10/13
    “Shea's determination allows him to manage his impairment with remarkable success, and readers will be surprised at how it escaped the attention of his parents, brothers, friends, and teachers.”

    Washington Post, 3/3

    “[A] brilliant and thoroughly engaging, if often painful, account…Throughout Song Without Words, the author candidly describes his dark, even catastrophic moments of perceived failure—failure to hear, failure to understand and interpret correctly, failure to connect, failure to keep up—but despite all this, the book sings a long, clear note of success. It is not a complaint but an exploration, not only of one man's unique path to self-knowledge but also of the nature of communication itself….To read Song without Words is to appreciate the poetry and clarity of Shea's language, resonant with hard-won experience, wisdom and stunning courage.” 

    The New Statesman

  • Nominated for the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Award for Best First Book

    Finalist, Nonfiction (All Authors), New England Book Festival

    Antonia Fraser, author of My Life with Harold Pinter

    "A brilliant window into the largely unknown world of the partially deaf: riveting to read, and illuminating at every level.”

    Louis Begley, author of About Schmidt

    “Fascinating, heartbreaking, heroic, and relentlessly riveting.”

    Kirkus Reviews, 1/15/13
    “The moving, poignant account of how a brilliant lawyer came to terms with the midlife discovery of his own partial deafness…The book is a powerful expression of loss, acceptance and the very human need to communicate. Shea's narrative derives its true power from the eloquence and intelligence with which he illuminates a world that may be unfamiliar to many readers.”

    David Lodge, author of Deaf Sentence: A Novel

    "Song Without Words is [an] incredible story . . . .  Gerald Shea . . . tells it with eloquence, wit, and the narrative drive of a good novel. It is a unique contribution to the growing literature about deafness, one which will illuminate the experience of fellow-sufferers, and deepen understanding in society at large.”

    Boston Globe, 2/22/13

  • “Shea…writes with elegance, finesse, and humor.”

    Action on Hearing Loss (UK), Summer 2014

    “Shea has presented us with a cogent, beautifully literate and breakthrough book of the philosophy of being a partially deaf person.”
Sante Fe New Mexican, 5/10/13
“The struggle alone would make good reading, but it's Shea's infusion of his experience with music and his explorations of the very nature of language that make this book cross into fascinating. And since 30 million Americans have some hearing loss, the story is probably closer to home than you realize.”

Psychology Today blog, 5/2813
“[Shea] writes beautifully, and his reflections on partial hearing loss are insightful and often very moving…Song Without Words is compelling reading.”

The Spectator (UK), 6/22/13
“Shea's story, fascinating and unusual in some of its details, gives a valuable insight into the experience of many.”

New York Journal of Books, 6/24/13
“What makes [Song without Words] shine is the sparkling of humor throughout, the addition of glimpses into his personal life, and the easing of what might be considered arrogance by tastefully illustrating his kindness and humility. You just can't help but like this man.”

  • “Humans communicate. It's not second nature, it's nature. Without that, what is it like to be human? Shea's Song Without Words is as eloquent an answer as we are likely to get.”

    Library Journal, 3/15/13

    “An inspiring and thought-provoking read.”

    Booklist, 2/27/13

    “Fascinating…[Shea's] story gives one a renewed appreciation for both the ear and the human spirit.”

    Philadelphia Tribune, 3/1/13

    “Witty and candid…Brings fascinating new insight into the nature and significance of language, the meaning of deafness—and the fierce controversy between advocates of signing versus those who favor oral education.”

    Hudson Valley News, 2/27/13

    “Well told…Shea [comes] to terms with his mid-life discovery with wisdom, wit, and the uncanny ability to make his story fascinating to all of us.”, 3/7/13
    “Fascinating reading.”

    Grand Piano Passion, 4/16/13

    “Gives a poetic window into the everyday struggles of a person with a significant hearing loss, yet also shows the way for living with a loss with acceptance, creativity, and even joy.”

    American Lawyer (website), 4/19/13

    “Elegantly written.”

    Millbrook Independent, 5/28/14
  • "[A] captivating memoir."—Jerome Groopman, New York Review of Books
  • On Sale
    Feb 26, 2013
    Page Count
    320 pages
    Da Capo Press

    Gerald Shea

    About the Author

    Gerald Shea was born in New York City and has lived most of his life in New York and in Paris. He practiced law in both cities for many years with Debevoise & Plimpton as a member of the New York and Paris bars. He is a graduate of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Yale University and Columbia Law School.

    Learn more about this author