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Review by Pamela Kaye Wright, Texas A&M University—Kingsville, Email: pamela.wright@tamuk.edu

Keywords: Deafness, medicine

In her “Preface” to Hearing Happiness, Jaipreet Virdi explains her goal is “to enrich our understanding of a nuanced and considerably underrepresented aspect of deaf history: that of the medical and technological avenues for ‘curing’ hearing loss” (xiv). She does just that with this well-researched, thoroughly-documented study. Her extensive archival work records the complex and controversial relationship between the medical and deaf communities. Virdi makes it clear that when she refers to the deaf community, she is referring to those most would classify as “hard of hearing,” who “largely relied on oral communication,” not those who are culturally Deaf (xiv). This is an important and helpful distinction for readers to understand exactly the community targeted by the creators and marketers of these “cures.” 

Organized in a thematic, chronological manner, Hearing Happiness makes it easy to follow the progression of technology and remedies for hearing loss offered throughout the decades as well as the advertising and marketing used to sell these cures. It is divided into seven sections, with extensive endnotes for each section, and an excellent selected bibliography. 

Virdi begins by outlining early attempts to correct hearing loss and the oppressive nature of a society that wishes to enforce an ideal of normalcy, thereby ostracizing those who cannot hear. During this discussion, she offers a useful explanation of the term “normal” and how it came to be applied to the physical body. She then turns to the history of traveling “doctors,” who sometimes didn’t actually hold a medical degree, and the many cures and remedies sold to those who were desperate to find any hope at all for their failing or lost hearing, including fads like trick plane flying and diving as well as bloodless finger surgery on the Eustachian tube. Finally, Virdi discusses more modern treatments like the use of electricity, cochlear implants and even auditory brainstem implant surgery. 

She covers the shame and embarrassment of noticeable hearing loss, and how companies took advantage of the need to appear “normal,” marketing hearing devices that were made to be hidden. Some companies even published pamphlets to instruct wearers on how best to hide the wires and the devices so as to be less noticeable. This discussion allows her to treat the gender reinforcement and bias seen throughout the years in hearing loss treatment.

Within each section Virdi features individual stories of hearing loss and deafness and how actual lives were impacted by these different treatments and cures. Virdi even weaves her own deafness story throughout this rich medical history. While Hearing Happiness is loaded with specialized information, because of this personal tone, it is not exclusively for those in Disability Studies or the medical field. Even those without an academic interest will enjoy it. Overall, Hearing Happiness is an important contribution in documenting a part of deaf history that hasn’t been sufficiently recorded. Virdi’s text is informative and instructive on a number of levels. Its content rife for discussion and debate. As such, Virdi is successful in her stated goal to improve our knowledge of this aspect of deaf history.

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