Book Review: I Hear Voices

I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death and the Radio

By Jean Feraca

Published August 2007

University of Wisconsin Press

176 pp.

ISBN 0-299-22390-6

Reviewed February 11, 2008

Originally reviewed in: BookReview.com

Most anyone who listens to Wisconsin Public Radio has, at one time or another, heard the voice of Jean Feraca. As host of WPR’s “Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders,” she is advocate and educator, an expert at mixing international issues with culture and aesthetics. An example of the program’s diversity can be seen in any random week’s schedule: this week features the presidential election, climate change, travel for women, love sonnets and natural aphrodisiacs.

Now, Feraca has turned her craft on herself with “I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death and the Radio.” She traces her own life and craft through a collection of personal vignettes, retrospectives that consider the people who have shaped her and her journey to become a writer. The end result is a fantastic, often haunting autobiography that unites a fascinating life with a voice gifted enough to provide all the details.

Feraca’s life is as mixed as the selections of her program – growing up in an Italian-American New York family, courtship in a monastery, a Jewish wedding in a nightgown, poetic rebirth in Italy with a sick child. She skims over her messy divorces and personal loneliness in favor of the epiphanies that saved her, concerned with the positives and the process. Readers are also treated to the aesthetic side of Feraca’s work: the book is peppered with asides such as a commentary on California wine, tips on writing poetry and a report on South American tribes

The book is written in the exact style you expect from someone with decades of experience in public radio, a calm and literate voice which feels like it can nurture and inform on any topic. Her words evince her other career as a poet, filled with “liquid gold” by family stories and her veins running with “quicksilver” anger over her ex-husband. Feraca knows exactly what she wants to say, is talented enough to say it right, and not afraid of saying what most keep private.

Her writing’s potency is also attributed to the characters she writes about, practically forces of nature in their own right. These include a brother who holds Sitting Bull and Mussolini in equal regard, a mother whose mind is rapidly deteriorating but exerts a manic energy, a poetry teacher more comparable to a master craftsman and an aunt consisting of ethereal sweetness. There is a mix of frustration at how difficult growing up with these people was, tempered with a wistful gratitude at being able to grow up with them.

Although she listens too closely in some cases – the last chapter on marriage and God feels almost thick after a glorious odyssey to an Amazon clinic – “I Hear Voices” is a memoir worth reading in depth, both for its burnished prose and the startling life it recounts. Feraca’s life is as much a story as any of her show’s topics, and deserves equal time and attention.

One Response to Book Review: I Hear Voices

  1. […] – surprisingly – borders on mundane, lacking the emotional center of his other works (or even other memoirs I’ve […]

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