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What Is Visible

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,108 ratings  ·  249 reviews
A vividly original literary novel based on the astounding true-life story of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person who learned language and blazed a trail for Helen Keller.
At age two, Laura Bridgman lost four of her five senses to scarlet fever. At age seven, she was taken to Perkins Institute in Boston to determine if a child so terribly afflicted could be
Hardcover, First edition , 307 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by Twelve
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  1,108 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Took me a while to read this one, not because I did not like it but because I kept looking things up in Wiki. Most everyone has heard or read about Helen Keller, but I for one had never heard of Laura Bridgman. Her story, on fact, began fifty years before that of Kellers.

She was left blind and mute following an illness when she was two yrs. Old, she was eight when she was sent to The Perkins School under the guidance of Samuel Howe. She is the first to learn English and the first to learn to
Mar 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Chrissie by: Lisa Vegan
Having recently read The Story of My Life, I wanted to read What Is Visible. The first book I gave two stars; this three. Without Laura Bridgman (1829 – 1889) there never would have been the Helen Keller we know today. Laura Bridgman was the first blind and deaf person to get a significant education in the English language, fifty years before the more famous Helen Keller.

In the 1880s Anne Sullivan (1866 – 1936) shared a cottage with Laura at Boston’s Perkins School for the Bind. Laura, in her
This superb historical fiction debut explores the life of America’s first deaf-blind poster child, Laura Bridgman. As William James declared, “Without Laura Bridgman there could never have been a Helen Keller.” Yet Laura has been largely forgotten, whereas Helen is an inspirational household name. Elkins imagines Laura’s rich inner life and places her within a fertile mid-century New England context – replete with educators, scientists, and reformers, but also with the threat of war and debates ...more
May 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
From the book: "That's what I hope they think of me: a present to them all from God, to show how little one can possess of what we think it means to be human while still possessing full humanity. I am a gift . . ." It took me awhile to get reeled into this marvelous debut. After reading Alice Hoffman's lush prose, Elkins' simpler style seemed a tad dull. And I am not a fan of books that change points of view. I'd rather stick with the one. However, after a few chapters, I was completely ...more
Lisa Vegan
Wow! This book was simultaneously devastating and fascinating for me. Overall, I found it to be a downer, a huge one.

I had hoped I’d see Laura’s life as one well worth living and uplifting, and that I’d find strength and inspiration there, despite her extreme sensory deprivation (she’d lost 4 senses, all but touch) but I didn’t, not as much as I’d have liked anyway. I found the book and Laura’s life very depressing, but I also found myself laughing a lot. Thank goodness for humor.

It didn’t help
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I already want to read this book again! I am in awe of Elkins' lyrical, intricate writing, both on the sentence level (beautiful, concise phrases such as "praying with a split tongue") and in the larger narrative structure of the novel. It's clear that a wealth of research went into the making of this book, and the historical details serve to lend a quiet, subtle authority to book while the characters, emotions, and plot remain at the forefront.

Those characters are mesmerizing--I kept wondering
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Quite simply, this is the best book I've read in a long time, both in itself and in its portrayal of disability, and the various issues that arise from it.

It is a fictional account (but based a great deal in fact) of the life story of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf-and-blind person to be educated and taught English, preceding Helen Keller. In fact, the novel starts when Laura is an older woman, meeting Helen Keller the child, and then goes back in time to Laura's childhood.

Now, I was a bit wary
J.J. Hunsecker
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing

It's always gratifying when an author rescues a deserving historical figure from complete obscurity (think about what Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff did for Chuck Yeager, the pilot who first broke the sound barrier). But What is Visible has so much more than just that going for it. Kimberly Elkins has written something almost unwriteable -- the inner life of a woman who had no direct experience of the spoken word, who had four of her five senses taken away, leaving her with nothing more than the
Tara Chevrestt
First of all, while I knew in advance from the blurb that it would be alternating POVs, the letters do not work for me. At times they make no sense or I don't much see their purpose, or they bring up issues I couldn't care less about, such as the doctor and Charles Sumner's possible romance.

I'm also disappointed that Laura is already hand-writing and quite educated when the book starts. I was hoping to see some of what occurred during her education process.

However, I related very well to Laura
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
All I can say about this book is Wow! Lyrical, haunting and pulls at every emotional string as it runs its course.

What is visible is the story of Laura Bridgman. A woman I had never heard of before reading this book. Laura was the first deaf-blind person to receive a significant education in America. Laura was stricken with scarlet fever when she was two, taking away 4 of her senses, sight, hearing, smell and taste. The only sense she was left with was touch. During her life, she was referred to
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
We all know the heroic tale of Helen Keller. As a child I remember watching the movie multiple times in school. But hardly anyone is familiar with Laura Bridgman, her predecessor who had the strength and determination to conquer her disabilities and set the stage for all of those that followed. In the early 1830's (Helen's story takes place 50 years later) Laura, at two years old, is struck with scarlet fever. It leaves her not only deaf and blind but without her sense of smell and taste as ...more
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book hold came up at the library at a time when I was overwhelmed with others, and I almost didn't read it. I'm so glad I did. It is such an interesting story of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person who learned to talk using her hands many years before Helen Keller appeared on the scene. Laura was even more deprived than Keller, having lost five of her senses at age two, leaving her only touch to encounter the world. She was essentially adopted by Dr Samuel Gridley Howe, who ...more
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
At the age of two, scarlet fever steals all but Laura Bridgman’s sense of touch. At seven, she is taken to the Perkins Institute, where she is placed under the direct care of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe and is taught to read, write and sign. Before long, news of Laura’s miraculous abilities spreads, making her one of the most famous women of the nineteenth century. But alone in her thoughts, Laura questions herself, the role of god and her possibilities for the future.

From her meeting with Helen
Delilah Stone
Mar 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with this book; I fell in love with Laura Bridgman. You'd think that a character who was deaf/blind/mute wouldn't be very interesting, but she's brilliant, funny and stubbornly her own person against all odds. The writing itself is absolutely gorgeous, and I also wouldn't have expected this book to have such elements as romance, bisexuality, affairs, etc., but it's all based on tons of research and history, and covers over 50 years. I also learned a lot of Civil War and ...more
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Everyone knows Helen Keller’s story but not many have written about Laura Bridgeman. She was born in 1829 and is known as the first deaf-blind American child to learn the English language, fifty years before Helen Keller. WHAT IS VISIBLE tells her story. It is a well researched and well written historical fiction debut. Laura’s story is heartbreaking and heartwarming. She is not only deaf and blind but has no sense of taste or smell either yet her life is rich. The book also explores the life of ...more
Novel Crazy
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What Is Visible is a beautifully crafted historical novel that is meticulously researched. Kimberly Elkins' prose not only sparkles on the page, it earns her a place in today's literary scene as a master story teller.
Andrew H
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How do I like this book, let me count the ways.

Told largely from the perspective of an historically real blind deaf-mute woman in the 19th century - Laura Bridgeman - What Is Visible is a fictional impression of Bridgeman's factually rich life story.

If you are reading this blog you have probably already read summaries of the story. So I will just add my two cents why I think this book is important. Elkins manages somehow to offer a character in Bridgeman who is scary - she's hit the trifecta
Jul 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Diane, Kate, Sara, Jan F., Marisa
Recommended to Doreen by: Laura H. had it on her book display
I had never heard of Laura Bridgman, a woman who could not see, hear, taste or smell since the age of two. Until I began reading this book, Laura and the Perkins Institute were unknown to me. Written as historical fiction, the author creates a sensitive and informational work about Laura's life and of the era in which she lived. Events during the Civil War, acceptable medical practices, and social topics of the time, are all masterfully included as Laura's life unfolds.

Elkins creates a nearly
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
a novel based on the life of laura bridgman. as the result of an illness at 2 1/2 years, she lost alk senses except touch. taken in at the] Perkins Institute, she learned to communicate by finger spelling. as an adult she taught Annie Sullivan to finger spell. Annie Sullivan left to teach Helen Keller a few years later. it is said that without Laura, Helen Keller would not have progressed so well. perhaps if laura had had the benefit of a single teacher over the years, as Helen had, she might ...more
MaryannC. Book Freak
Ok, after a first hasty review of this book, I am going to put out another one and just say what I think. I never heard of Laura Bridgman, she was famous in her own right, but her life was a hard one having lost four out of five senses that most of us take for granted. I was sad for her sometimes, I loved that she fought back for what she wanted. I was sometimes angry because her much revered Dr. Howe was a total self serving schmuck and his wife Julia wasn't much better, she either detested ...more
Alice Bye
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a refreshing and enjoyable read! I didn't even realize there was another dead/blind person besides Hellenic Keller! It was really awesome to get in Laura's head and see how she interprets the world around her.
Oct 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Most people know the story of Helen Keller. But few people are aware of the story of Laura Bridgman. Laura was born in 1829. At the age of two, she was stricken with scarlet fever which left her deaf and blind, and also deprived her of her sense of taste and sense of smell. At the age of 8 she was sent to the Perkins Institution (now known as the Perkins School for the Blind) in Boston where Dr. Samuel Howe succeeded in teaching her words and how to spell them. She was the first American ...more
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is at the top of my Best Books of 2014 so far. It's a fictional account of the life of Laura Bridgman, a woman who lost her senses of sight, hearing, taste, and smell to scarlet fever at the age of two, and was admitted to the Perkins School for the Blind. She predated Helen Keller by fifty years or so, and was famous worldwide (Charles Dickens wrote about her in his American Notes). You might say that Bridgman put the Perkins School and its director, Samuel Gridley Howe, on the map. ...more
Kate Manning
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Laura Bridgman, one of the most celebrated women of her time, has been mostly lost to ours. Now, Kimberly Elkins’s wonderful novel salvages her story from the sunken wreckage of history and tells it anew in riveting, poignant detail.

Born in 1829, Laura became blind and deaf at age 2, from scarlet fever, which also took her senses of smell and taste. But despite her disabilities, she acquired the use of language, 50 years before Helen Keller did. Laura stunned large audiences with
Leslie Lindsay
Feb 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Holy cow! What a smashing historical debut. I so loved WHAT IS VISIBLE, a fictional account based on Helen Keller's predecessor, Laura Bridgman. And who is Laura Bridgman, you may the last few pages of the book indicate, without Helen Keller, there would have been no Laura Bridgman.

The second famous woman in the mid-nineteenth century (second only to the Queen), Laura was a deaf-blind woman who also had no sense of taste or smell; she could only feel (touch), due to a bad case of
Robert Blumenthal
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a fictionalized account of the real life woman named Laura Bridgman, who was a deaf/blind person who preceded Helen Keller. At the age of 2, she contracted Scarlet Fever and lost all of her senses except for the sense of touch. Through her own voice and that of Samuel Gridley Howe (the director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind), his wife Julia Ward Howe, and Laura's beloved teacher Sarah Wight, Laura's story form the age of seven until her death at the age of 59 is told. Using both ...more
Madolyn R.
Jul 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I personally thought this was a fantastic book. I borrowed it from my local library for the family vacation I went on and started it on Tuesday July 22nd, I finished it 3 days later. I couldn't put it down. I plan to buy it as soon as I can.

I'll admit I was a little upset reading the Afterword and finding that some of the details (including an entire character and 'plot' with that character) were fictionalized. I can understand changing a little bit here and there, which will happen when the
Feb 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: contemporary, adult
I've been interested in Laura Bridgman since I was a little girl, and have always been surprised that there has been so little written about her. This novel fills a huge gap. It's historical fiction, but largely based on fact. I appreciated that the author includes an epilogue that makes it very clear which parts (and characters) she made up. Laura's ability not only to learn about the world, but also to ask questions and draw her own conclusions despite the efforts of Samuel Howe to mold her ...more
Joss Bensimon
This is my BOOK OF THE YEAR. I'm recommending it to everyone I know. The prose is gorgeous, the characters fully three-dimensional (even if, as some readers point out, you don't like all of them!), and Laura Bridgman has earned a place in my heart forever. As someone who grew up with a deaf mother, this book especially means a lot. Kimberly Elkins does not sentimentalize those with handicaps; she empowers them.

With WHAT IS VISIBLE, you get great history, an astonishing story, a master class in
Aug 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a brave and beautiful book. Laura Bridgman, an unheralded American icon, is here brought back to glowing, fascinating, ferocious life by an exquisitely talented writer. Can't believe this is a debut novel!

And although Laura is the center, there is so much incredible history here (not to mention entertainment of the highest order and still great literary merit) with Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, Charles Dickens and Julia Ward Howe being some of the other characters. So much research so
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WHAT IS VISIBLE is Kimberly's first novel, and it continues to garner great critical acclaim, having been reviewed by Barbara Kingsolver on the cover of the New York Times Book Review and picked as a NYTBR Editors' Choice book, in addition to being chosen as The Most Inspirational Book of 2014 by Woman's Day. WIV was also listed in Best Summer Debuts by the LA Times and Library Journal, and was ...more
“Love, I think, is by necessity constructed of a ladder of lies you climb together.” 2 likes
“God is a strange and mysterious master, and I no doubt am a strange and mysterious servant, but from this day forward I am His. I am forever changed, by my own choice, and I wonder if He is too.” 0 likes
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