The Day the Whale Becomes Deaf by Kristina Strelnikova

Review by Ekaterina Shatalova

Today I would like to introduce you to Kristina Strelnikova (Кристина Стрельникова), winner of the numerous literary awards, who created a very moving book for teenagers on the importance of listening and hearing, stylistically somewhat reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye.

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The Day the Whale Becomes Deaf

«День глухого кита» by Kristina Strelnikova with illustrations by Katya Tolstaya (Rech, 2019), 96 pages

Recommended age 12+

‘I felt like I was entering some new territory I didn’t even know existed. Deaf people live on a separate floating island that swims in the sea of hearing people. ‘The Territory of the Deaf.’”

This short but very sharp story starts with a 12-year boy breaking his aunt’s precious teapot and causing a huge argument in the family, during which he all of a sudden turns deaf. The boy is obsessed with whales (even his nickname is Kit, a whale in Russian) and wants to stop whaling. He can’t understand how anyone can care about some silly teapot when there are whales to be saved! At least now he won’t be able to hear any more accusations, yelling and lecturing. However, he soon realises that there is also a downside to his deafness: your friends no longer accept you as part of their group, you can’t listen to your favourite music or ask a girl on a date…

Going through a constant internal struggle, the young character swings from one extreme to another: even his beloved cat irritates him so much that he punches him in the face and accidentally knocks out one of his teeth. Many adult readers were shocked by this scene: some thought it was too cruel, some just didn’t believe it would happen in real life. But don’t forget we are dealing with an angry and frustrated teenager. At some point the boy decides to visit a school for the deaf to learn how to regulate the sound of his voice. There he discovers that the deaf can perfectly communicate, sing, dance, and even play musical instruments. He is quite tempted to join this school, but deep inside he knows that if he does this, he will have to leave his whole life behind. One day on the way home he sees the very same teapot that he has broken on display in an antique store. He buys it right away and brings it home, where he feverishly starts packing his stuff. He’s made up his mind. And at that very moment his hearing comes back to him, and he finds out that a few big organisations are interested in his project on whales’ protection. It turns out that all this time his mother has been sending out his project to all possible addresses… Sometimes you need to turn deaf in order to hear yourself and the surrounding world. The story is accompanied by stunning illustrations by Katya Tolstaya, who managed to incredibly accurate grasp the complex feelings of both the boy and the adults as if she actually heard them.

About the author

Kristina Strelnikova (born 1976), famous children’s author and poet, winner of numerous literary awards. Having received a degree in law, she started writing in 2008 and now her works are published in all major children’s magazines.

Please get in touch if you’d like a sample translation or more information about the book.

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