King tells this emotional story in crisp, quick prose, recounting major events with little transition between one day and the next: “Our lives changed quickly. Pearl moved in with me six months after we met. I reserved a U-Haul truck, collected cartons from the supermarket, and bought Pearl a negligee as a welcome gift.” King omits excessive detail—in about twenty pages, roughly three years’ worth of experiences ( the construction of a house, King’s graduation with a MBA, and the couple’s choice to get married) get laid out, which some readers might find jarring. What matters most, though, is King’s openness about this relationship and his respect for Pearl’s story, right up to its bittersweet finish.
Too many narratives concerned with mental health focus intensely on the disorder itself, forgetting the person who is afflicted with it. Not so, here, as King takes pains throughout to capture Pearl as a vital presence as the couple rough it on Bowen Island, sharing a life of livestock and ferry rides. Readers interested in life with mental health issues can enjoy the insights and slight suspense in this honest story, which closes with a personal letter from Pearl’s family and welcome commentary from King about how a sad ending for some can be a blessed beginning for others.
Takeaway: A love story and memoir that touches on deafness, schizophrenia, and roughing it in isolated British Columbia.
Great for fans of: Marin Sardy’s The Edge of Every Day, Donna McDonald’s The Art of Being Deaf.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B+
Clarion Rating: 4 out of 5
Derrick King’s powerful memoir Love for a Deaf Rebel is about how falling in love with a deaf woman changed his life.
In the 1980s, King fell in love with Pearl, a beautiful, independent woman who was born deaf. They meet by chance: having lunch in the same food court, King was mesmerized by her elegance. They exchanged handwritten notes, through which Pearl opened herself up to King, describing the abuses she experienced and the difficulties that come with deafness, including having others believe her to be incapable of reacting to the world around her.
At a slow, cautious rate, Pearl and King began having lunch a few times a week; their friendship deepened. At the same time, Pearl was seeing psychiatrists, though, and she was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Despite his affection for her, King determined that he had to let Pearl go: “Watching Pearl collapse was like suffering the slow death of a partner with no way to say goodbye.”
King’s love for Pearl is conveyed throughout in concise, accessible terms that capture the challenges of falling in love with a person who sees the world in a different way well. This most often occurs through records of their exchanges: Pearl asserts that most hearing women would never marry a deaf man, and suggests that hearing men are sexually attracted to deaf women. Compelling arguments about God, religion, and destiny also occur, with Pearl saying: “If there is God there is no deafness, no father death, no rape. Get it?”
And when the book covers technical and medical information related to Pearl’s disease, it does so in a manner that’s considerate of audiences without expertise: of hearing abilities and disabilities, Pearl shares the comparison of “140 decibels in your good ear. You hear a jet fly like I hear a pin drop.” The book’s coverage of the physical and psychological abuse that Pearl experienced is more sobering; it also comes in Pearl’s words: “I did not resist. No point to shout at a deaf party.”
Indeed, the book’s most moving portions are its conversations between King and Pearl, which are recreated from transcripts, notes, and records. King’s narration strives to authentically capture his feelings in the moment. He reserves his revelations about Pearl’s earliest history for last. Though in many ways a scarred and broken women, she’s also memorialized as honest, trustworthy, and real. The book ends with a letter from Pearl’s family to King, giving, in brief, their side of the story.
Love for a Deaf Rebel is a moving memoir about the difficulty of dealing with a loved one’s mental and physical illness.
Reviewed by Anna Maria Colivicchi
July 19, 2021
Love for a Deaf Rebel is an intimate and raw memoir of Derrick King’s deep but doomed love for Pearl, a woman who spent a lifetime fighting the known disability of deafness and unacknowledged devil of schizophrenia.
King is an intelligent, high achiever who never settled for an easy path in the pursuit of his goals. He is initially intrigued by the difference of Pearl, a pretty woman who was deaf from birth and usually orally mute by choice. Pearl has strong (and occasionally violent) opinions about both the deafies who share her difference and the hearies who discriminate consciously or unconsciously against those who must live in a world of silence.
Pearl is the survivor of one divorce and a second long-term failed relationship. King is separated from his vibrant but unfaithful wife. It takes time for the couple to build trust and acceptance, especially for Pearl who expects the worst of life based on terrible experiences, such as being raped at seventeen. The human ability to choose what we see or believe is repeatedly evident. From King choosing to accept and trust an unregistered building contractor to save money; to Pearl’s family who chooses to pretend Pearl’s mental health issues are anything more than the difference of deafness.
Pearl’s family has refused to learn sign language as they followed popular but ultimately misguided precepts that the deaf must become oral to integrate into society. Yet King chooses to focus on this as the cause of strained family relationships and ignore or minimize his misgivings about Pearl’s occasional erratic behavior and inability to remain connected to old friends. They embark on the life-changing experience of buying a half-finished house on Bowen Island to create a country lifestyle for the children Pearl is desperate to have.
The story of Pearl demonstrates the depth of commitment she inspired in King as the memoir provides an unvarnished and honest unraveling of a relationship under the pressure of long days, hard work, and fundamental mistrust. While Pearl is dogged by the paranoia of deepening schizophrenia; the consequential impact of mistrust on normal brain biology is also clear. As Pearl’s suspicion grows, King lives up to some of that mistrust by taking evasive steps to avoid bringing a child into a troubled relationship. Steps that he rationalizes in a manner that is easily relatable but is also an uncomfortable reminder of typical human behavior to justify difficult decisions.
Ultimately, Pearl is not an entirely reliable witness into the current world of the deaf as an unknown element of her rebellion and anger is colored by mental ill-health. Plus, a modern medical profession disparages the historic approach to institutionalizing deaf children as a failed and adverse experiment that hindered the ability of the deaf to accept and be accepted in mainstream life and develop barriers which color Pearl’s interactions. But her story is a fascinating tribute to a woman who battled the odds and brought joy and love to a man who chose to celebrate Pearl’s strengths and fought to understand and help a woman who could not accept that her twisted world perspective was self-destructive.
Read Love for a Deaf Rebel for its authenticity and honesty and you can expect to gain a deeper appreciation of the struggles of those who battle to play the cards fate has dealt them. More importantly, you will celebrate the joy of hard work and a loving relationship where anything seems possible.
Reviewed by Karen Milliard 13 October 2021
“Are you deaf?” Derrick said to the young woman in the food court who was intently studying the young banker sitting in the seat opposite her. With this question, his life changed as he slowly fell in love with Pearl, thought he came to understand her, and then found the added challenge of living with a paranoid schizophrenic without knowing what was wrong. She wrote: “I watch lips. If you speak and I ignore you will think I am rude. I don’t want hearing to think that deafies like me are rude.”
The encounter between strangers living in two worlds is compellingly described. The bond that then develops brings with it revelations about prejudice, acceptance, handicaps, and relationships. As the author begins to see how his perception of a relationship with a handicapped woman is influenced by his vision of equality, he changes … and so will the reader.
Pearl is deaf, but her struggle is psychological. Derrick must face both his love for her and, later, his growing realization that she needs more help than he can offer. He is especially astute at describing the intersection of his needs and Pearl’s psyche: “I was still so stunned by her accusations that I couldn’t see how much Pearl must have been suffering in order to develop, to live with, and to act upon her bizarre thoughts.” The duality of deafness and schizophrenia is charted through the lens of an intense love and personal growth process that brings a “you are here” feel to the story in a way few other memoirs achieve.
Derrick’s shift from staid banker to hobby farmer and devoted husband to frustrated partner are exceptional coverages that offer readers in any similar circumstance the opportunity to reconsider not just their relationship, and their prejudices and motivations surrounding it, but obstacles and opportunities for change. This is an important feature in Love for a Deaf Rebel because it embraces not just personal experience, but many thought-provoking insights into the mechanics of identifying, helping, and living with deafness and schizophrenia simultaneously: a one-two punch that would leave many lost.
The eye-opening contrast between following dreams and building an adventurous life together and the crushing realities of a mental illness which can’t be left behind show what it means to be in love against all odds. This isn’t just a story of relationship discoveries; it’s about building a life together, constructing a home, discovering a swindler and a spoiled house, and Pearl’s challenge of developing enough trust to build the devotion that “glues” a marriage together over the long term, ready to have children.
As their relationship founders, Derrick questions his love, commitment, and ability to remain a force in her life and in his own. The role of friends and family is examined as closely as Derrick’s own interactions with her and his choices to stand by her while her mental health collapses, nearly bringing him down with it.
Anyone interested in mental illness in family relationships or in the special interactions between deaf and hearing lovers will find Love for a Deaf Rebel infused with a passion that brings it more than a cut above the normal memoir; it’s a riveting adventure through life and psyche that proves hard to put down. The epilogue is especially touching—but don’t read it until the end.
Love for a Deaf Rebel is offered in a 350-page print edition and a 190-page eBook edition. The print edition has twelve pages of color photos of their life together while the eBook edition provides readers with a shorter story that can be more easily browsed on a small mobile reader. As a tribute to Pearl, both editions are free to download.
Reviewed by Diane Donovan
Derrick King was an electronic engineer working at a Dutch bank; he studied Spanish at a night school and was planning to start studying for an MBA. He met Pearl in a downtown Vancouver food court during lunchtime while looking for a seat. They became friends and then slowly progressed to dating. Pearl was deaf and she was unlucky in love; her sexual history included a homosexual, an alcoholic, and an epileptic. Their lives changed when they moved in together and enjoyed a motorcycle trip to Mexico and Guatemala. Derrick was smitten by Pearl.
Love for a Deaf Rebel chronicles their life together, and the obstacles they faced while building their dreams in Bowen Island, a British Columbia community. The story is heartbreaking and filled with angst in the author's experience of living with Pearl, a schizophrenic and deaf person. His struggles while living with her make this book a compelling read. Love for a Deaf Rebel is a story of true love, acceptance, loss, and grief, and the author's honesty and straightforwardness in sharing his life story are heartwarming. His feelings, emotions, and thoughts during the different stages of their relationship, hoping they would have a happy family, make this book memorable.
How they dealt with her bouts of schizophrenia—without knowing she was mentally ill, because her family chose to withhold that information from him—and how Pearl was unraveling while their relationship was unraveling are described. There is a lot of feeling when the author mentions it was an honor being her husband, how he cherished his times with her and reunited with her many times in his dreams.
Reviewed By Mamta Madhavan 18 April 2021Review Rating: 5 Stars
“Think of it this way: ASL is a silent movie. English is an unillustrated book.”
This factual account is of the author’s love and marriage with a deaf person. They met in Vancouver. Pearl was among the two-hundred-thousand “deafies” in Canada whose language is American Sign Language (ASL). King’s early attraction was a mixture of admiration and empathy. Pearl bravely lived on her own. They wrote on napkins, and he learned sign language. However, early in their relationship, she taught King the sign for revenge. Should he be concerned about this rebel?
The book vividly details their motorcycle adventure to Guatemala and decision to move to Bowen Island, with commutes to Vancouver by boat and bus. They bought an acreage, near a lake, with a half-finished house and a barn, and became hobby farmers. A dishonest contractor meant significant house repairs and delayed Pearl’s desire for marriage and babies. Did this explain how she went from loving King to accusing him to the police?
This poignant love story is well-written and in three parts: their meeting, love, and lost trust. The other characters in the memoir are real people but with their names changed. King’s book also becomes a platform for facts about the life of deaf people. For example, Pearl could read lips and speak, though “hearies” seldom understood. Her mother supported the Elks’ oral development fund, wanting her to fit into the hearing world.
The narrative also delves into other issues beyond deafness the relationship encountered, such as schizophrenia, blindness, and diabetes. The final chapter focuses on Pearl’s background. For instance, her loving family liked King but hid facts about schizophrenia. Additionally, the author’s father warned of difficult childhoods that may result from handicaps. Those interested in the stress that disabilities can often place on relationships may wish to read this candid firsthand account.
Reviewed by Donna Ford
"Our reviewers apply a RECOMMENDED rating to outstanding books less than 10 to 20% of the time. Recommended nonfiction books are well organized, reveal deep insight and knowledge, and fulfill their intended mission with merit. This is a very high quality book."