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A twelve-year-old violin virtuoso is plunged into a deaf world, necessitating him to adapt to a new culture and language in order to survive.
David Rothman is an overnight success. He performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in New York’s Symphony Hall with rave reviews attracting the attention of the Queen of England. His future is laid out for him like a well-lit freeway. Then, on his birthday, David suffers from a sudden and irreparable hearing loss, plunging him into a silent world. Written from his own perspective, the novel shows how an adolescent boy sets about coping with this devastating new condition. It takes time. How will he communicate with his friends? What can he do about school? How do you deal with unexpected and possibly dangerous situations? What will his future be like?
A Primer on Empathy
It's not often that a book aimed at "Young Adults" makes me want to cry. Michael Thal managed this with his story of David, a violin virtuoso who suddenly went profoundly deaf the day after his twelfth birthday.
Goodbye Tchaikovsky is excellent on many levels.
First, obviously, it is an introduction to what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world, presented so the young reader identifies with David’s experiences on an emotional level.
Second, it is a primer on empathy. "What if that happened to me?" Michael's choice of hero is perfect. The underlying message is, "What if I lost the ability to do the activity that gives me meaning in life, joy and purpose?" A teenager with a passion for basketball might imagine what it would be like after breaking his neck, another who lives for computer games may think of blindness or a paralyzed hand...
Third, Michael deals with the issue of stigma and discrimination, showing that, whether you are Christian or Jewish, ethically Japanese or Caucasian, deaf or hearing, you deserve respect, compassion, decency, and love.
If you, or someone you care for, are struck by a handicap such as deafness, you can draw instruction and inspiration from this book. However, any teenager will enjoy reading about David's journey, and benefit from the underlying lessons within Goodbye Tchaikovsky.
Bob Rich is the author of Striking Back From Down Under