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“Il était une voix” (once upon a voice) – Marina Al Rubaee – Publisher: Editions Mazarine

One day, while listening to the “Hondelatte raconte” podcast on Europe 1, I came across the story of Marina, whose parents were deaf, and who was explaining her life as a hearing person in the midst of this world of silence which was her childhood.

Overwhelmed by what I’d heard, I immediately got in touch with Marina, as her story reflected the story of all caregivers, regardless of the disability in question. I felt compelled to read her book. To experience her story through my own memories, my own feelings and my own story.

Marina was a little girl raised in a Paris suburb. Her father worked hard as a tailor and her mother a housewife, dedicated to raising her children. She was the eldest of three children, and as the big sister, and a daughter to deaf parents, she had to grow up fast to help her parents live in society.

At the beginning, all is well in this quiet world which is home. She doesn’t need to use her vocal cords as she naturally learns how to communicate with her parents using sign language. Things get a little more complicated when she starts school. She quickly realises that the outside world is very different to her family unit. For starters, it is noisy.

This world is scary for the little girl. Why does she have to talk? Why does she need to communicate differently to the way she does with her parents?

Through her strength of character, and the loving support of her mother, she understands that she needs to fit in and realises that her role is to be the link between this outside world and her family.

Her parents, who are extremely protective, understand that little Marina wants to, and can, help then fit into a society that, in truth, does not care about people who are different.

Communicating at the age of six with her father’s boss who is late in paying his wages, interpreting for her parents during doctors’ visits, with the authorities, while watching the news on TV. Marina remains a child who plays and enjoys herself, but takes pride in her responsibilities. She gradually becomes a loving and loved carer.

As you read, you see Marina grow up, and slowly come to understand the challenge of thriving as a young women and bearing the burden alone of this important role which, although it comes naturally to her, is sometime difficult to bear. Her partly stolen childhood, despite the clear love of those close to her, has nonetheless forged her personality. A person who will decide her own destiny and be responsible for her actions.

As a result, in her book, Marina manages to effortlessly and simply address disability, the way in which others perceive this disability, the weight of society and the life of carers. A book which very much deserves a read, especially by us who are “more included than we think”.

Her story touched me deeply, a bit like the food critic in the Disney film Ratatouille who, while eating soup at the end of the animation film, is reminded of the taste of his grandmother’s soup.

 Marina’s story took me back to my childhood, with my mother who was hard of hearing and disabled (blocked hip). The challenge, when we are little, of accepting that society only esteems those who are “normal”, of understanding the way in which others perceive disability. The sense of pride in helping my mother carry her shopping up the stairs, supporting her physically as she held onto my arm to help her walk.

The warmth and pride in the way she looked at me, this woman who society had excluded and who was trying to fit in.

Today, my dear mother is no longer with us, but thanks to this book I have spent some time with her again. Thank you Marina.

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