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Extended Audio Sample What Is Visible: A Novel, by Kimberly Elkins Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Kimberly Elkins Narrator: Joanne Howarth Publisher: Hachette Book Group Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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 taught. At age twelve, Charles Dickens declared her his prime interest for visiting America. And by age twenty, she was considered the nineteenth century’s second most famous woman, having mastered language and charmed the world with her brilliance. Not since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has a book proven so profoundly moving in illuminating the challenges of living in a completely unique inner world.

With Laura—by turns mischievous, temperamental, and witty—as the book’s primary narrator, the fascinating kaleidoscope of characters includes the founder of Perkins Institute, Samuel Gridley Howe, with whom she was in love; his wife, the glamorous Julia Ward Howe, a renowned writer, abolitionist, and suffragist; Laura’s beloved teacher, who married a missionary and died insane from syphilis; an Irish orphan with whom Laura had a tumultuous affair; Annie Sullivan; and even the young Helen Keller.

Deeply enthralling and rich with lyricism, What Is Visible chronicles the breathtaking experiment that Laura Bridgman embodied and its links to the great social, philosophical, theological, and educational changes rocking Victorian America. Given Laura’s worldwide fame in the nineteenth century, it is astonishing that she has been virtually erased from history. What Is Visible will set the record straight.

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Quotes & Awards

  • What Is Visible…illustrates the art of fiction at its best in presenting the interior. A splendid debut indeed.”

    Ha Jin, National Book Award-winning author

  • What Is Visible is not only a compelling, deeply moving novel; it is a fully realized work of art. This is an auspicious debut of an important new writer.”

    Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

  • “An astonishing debut that vividly brings to life a forgotten chapter of American history…Beautiful, heart-wrenching, and at times quite funny, this book is a marvel.”

    J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author

  • What Is Visible contemplates the bare requisites of being human, more fundamentally than most meditations on haves and have-nots. When Laura is put on display, she wants to be seen as ‘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.’ A novel’s extraordinary power is to allow a reader to take possession of the inner life of another. This one provides entree to a nearly unthinkable life, and while no one would want to live there, it’s a fascinating place to visit.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Though she was an internationally renowned figure in the mid-nineteenth century, Laura has been all but forgotten by history. Fortunately, Elkins revives this historical figure with a wonderfully imaginative and scrupulously researched debut novel.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Howe, his poet wife, and Laura’s beloved teacher, this is a complex, multilayered portrait of a woman who longed to communicate and to love and be loved. Elkins fully captures her difficult nature and her relentless pursuit of connection.”


  • “[This] strikingly original debut novel…unfolds against a background rich with progressive and social causes, from women’s suffrage to abolitionism. What Is Visible marries historical research with lyrical and sometimes starkly honest writing…a convincing portrayal of a uniquely interior world and the deeply human need to feel and connect, despite the body’s limitations.”


  • “The story of Helen Keller’s forgotten forerunner comes nimbly to life in Elkins’ debut novel…An affecting portrait which finally provides its idiosyncratic heroine with a worthy voice.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week, June 2014
  • A BookPage Top Pick, June 2014
  • A BookPage Best Book of 2014
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About the Author

Kimberly Elkins was a finalist for the National Magazine Award and has published fiction and nonfiction in the Atlantic, Best New American Voices, Iowa Review, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and Village Voice, among others.

About the Narrator

Joanne Howarth is a television and stage actor who is known for her live performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in plays such as Julius Caesar, The Comedy of Errors, and Twelfth Night. Her television credits include Waking the Dead, Eastenders, Casualty, and The Wyvern Mystery.