cover image Deaf Republic

Deaf Republic

Ilya Kaminsky. Graywolf, $16 (80p) ISBN 978-1-55597-831-0

Kaminsky’s second collection (after 2004’s Dancing in Odessa) is bookended by two poems—“We Lived Happily during the War” and “In a Time of Peace”—ostensibly set in the present and addressing a kind of public blindness to faraway events. What lies between them is a two-part drama composed of short, plainspoken lyrics that envision the military occupation of the fictional town of Vasenka. After the murder of a deaf boy in the public square, the townspeople unite under a strategy of resistance in the form of feigned deafness at any and all of the soldiers’ requests. Part one follows the boy’s cousin, pregnant puppeteer Sonya, and her husband, Alfonso, as they navigate the dangers of deafness and pregnancy under an increasingly belligerent force. Part two follows the owner of the puppet theater as she does the same, as well as Alfonso and Sonya’s infant as she grows into a child. What results is a riveting and emotional story line with parallels to the author’s life, which relies on plain spoken diction, repetition, and small moments of romantic desire to anchor its larger political themes. Moments of brilliance shine through (“Body, they blame you for all things and they/ seek in the body what does not live in the body”), though some readers may feel that the story would be better suited to the stage. (Mar.)