Read the original short story upon which the novel was based in The Atlantic

Laura Bridgman, 1869. Courtesy of The Perkins School For The Blind.

” WHAT IS VISIBLE illuminates the historical blindness of men – and women’s struggles to be seen and heard. The novel is infused with longing and rich with detail about the social reforms of the Victorian era, the quest for rights and freedom for women and slaves, for the disabled and the poor…. Elkins makes this great American woman visible again, in all her remarkable, fully human complexity.”      
The Washington Post

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.  At age two, Laura Bridgman lost four of her five senses to scarlet fever. At age seven, she was taken to Perkins Institute 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, charming the world with her brilliance as the first deaf and blind person to master language—and blazing a trail for Helen Keller.  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; Annie Sullivan; and even the young Helen Keller.

New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
• BookPage “Best Books of 2014”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Year in Review: 9 Books That Enriched Us”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Books of 2014
Woman’s Day “Most Inspirational Book of 2014”
• Women’s National Book Association Great Group Reads Pick for 2014
Library Journal “Summer Best Debuts of 2014”
• Winner of the 2014 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize for American Historical Fiction 

Praise & Reviews

“WHAT IS VISIBLE contemplates the bare requisites of being human, more fundamentally than most meditations on haves and have-nots… 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… a fascinating place to visit.”
— Barbara Kingsolver, Front Page of The New York Times Book Review

“A wonderfully imaginative and scrupulously researched debut novel… [The protagonist] comes across as a willful, mysterious marvel, showing ‘how little one can possess of what we think it means to be human while still possessing full humanity.'”
— Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“Kimberly Elkins gives Bridgman her defiant due in reimagining her fascinating, now-forgotten story… The world Elkins discovers within is anything but muted. In tactile prose, she evokes a soul and a body with hungers (yes, there is sex) that none of Bridgman’s guides begins to imagine.”
The Atlantic

“I know firsthand how brutally difficult it is to write a creatively rich, humanly revealing novel based on real people in a distant time.  Kimberly Elkins does this brilliantly.  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 of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“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.”
— Booklist

“An affecting portrait which finally provides its idiosyncratic heroine with a worthy voice.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“An astonishing debut that vividly brings to life a forgotten chapter of American history. You’ll recognize many of the characters in WHAT IS VISIBLE, but its heroine, Laura Bridgman, is likely someone you’ve never heard of. After you read it, you’ll never forget her. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, and at times quite funny, this book is a marvel.”
— J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Maine and The Engagements

“In a stunning fictional biography…Kimberly Elkins reimagines Bridgman’s life from the age of 12 to her final years, a period that spans the Victorian era, the Civil War and the dawning of women’s rights…The result is a mesmerizing interior voice that conveys the eccentric, sometimes terrifying poetry of a life cut off from everything but touch.”
—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Ms. Elkins’ story is not only informative but also beautiful and tragic, without any of the dryness a textbook biography on the subject might offer.”
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Heartbreaking… Laura’s life raises a…religious question. You wonder, does God love her less for saddling her with these afflictions or more for giving her such stunning powers?”
—Scott Simon, NPR

“WHAT IS VISIBLE is remarkable at many levels. It is written in an intelligent, intricate style, populated with many true historical figures, and teeming with convincing period details.  Above all, the novel has a unique narrative structure, which illustrates the art of fiction at its best in presenting the interior. A splendid debut indeed.”
— Ha Jin, National Book Award Winner for Waiting

“WHAT IS VISIBLE…hopefully will restore Bridgman to at least a portion of the popularity she enjoyed in life.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“A tour de force, uplifting and powerful.” 
—Toronto Star

“An amazing historical novel. [Laura’s] is a stunning voice. And you get the sexual tensions of the nineteenth century…there was a lot more going on there than you think!”      
—NBC’s Weekend Today

“A tender book, sometimes difficult, but engrossing.”
 —The Advocate

“Elkins’s novel does an excellent job of refuting the ‘blindness as tragedy’ myth which circulated in Laura’s time (as it still does today). What is Visible raises important questions about how both non-disabled people and disabled people might relate to questions of pity, dependency and trust.”
—Dr. Hannah Thompson, author of the acclaimed “Blind Spot” disability blog

“The best historical fiction offers readers a new look at a well-known subject, or illuminates an episode or individual that has been lost to history. Playwright Kimberly Elkins achieves the latter in WHAT IS VISIBLE, a strikingly original debut novel.”

“I found myself slowly mesmerized by WHAT IS VISIBLE, and then increasingly haunted and bound to the story of Laura Bridgman, the second, deeper, darker invisibility of her life so permanently excavated and restored to memory by the talented hand of Kimberly Elkins and her extraordinary powers of imagination. To say that I was profoundly moved by this novel would be an understatement.”
— Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

“An engrossing and moving read.”
Woman’s Day

“Every once in a while, a novel is so powerful that you feel you inhabit it. I walked around in a trance while reading What is Visible, the astonishing debut from Kimberly Elkins.”
—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You

“A literary triumph that makes visible the rich, deeply felt reality of a woman who longed to be remembered.” 
—Palm Beach Post

“[Elkins’s] ability to describe a world Laura can encounter only through her skin is remarkable…The mere feeling of the sun and wind on her face takes on incredible beauty…a fascinating look inside the life of a woman now mostly lost to history.”
 —Sarasota Herald-Tribune

“In WHAT IS VISIBLE, where a vibrant world is filtered through Laura’s singular mind, Elkins has created a complex, lively, engaging guide, brimming with a universal longing for connection and love.”
—Shelf Awareness

“A provocative, profoundly beautiful book… To be frank, it is all gold in Elkins’ hands. Her research is impressively thorough, her prose precise. Her portrait of an inquisitive, sensual and witty Bridgman is compelling.”
—Winnipeg Free Press

“[A] superb work of historical fiction… What is visible here? Not only the myriad developments of a half century in American history and the whole span of a remarkable existence, but also a glimpse into how love and purpose can make any life worthwhile.”

“Elkins’ Laura is neither a victim nor a saint. She is feisty, willful, sometimes judgmental, occasionally given to hysterics and ferociously needy…. It’s to Elkins’ credit that she makes a more problematic and stubborn individual seem equally representative of human longings.” 
—Columbus Dispatch

“Elkins gives full throat to this strong voice: Laura is funny, angry, brave. She sees without seeing, hears without hearing, speaks without speech. Her world is rich indeed, one of yearning, secrets, defiance and lyrical flights of fancy.”
—Austin American Statesman

“Elkins gives us a brilliant, questioning woman.”
—St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Elkins skillfully weaves the stories of love, longing, and jealousies between her characters, and creates a complex tapestry of emotion.” 
—Washington Independent Review of Books

“What sets this novel apart is the author’s ability to imagine Laura Bridgman’s world and to give her a powerful narrative voice. With skill and compassion, Elkins portrays Bridgman as a complicated character whose strengths and flaws grow more complex as the story progresses. This is American historical fiction at its best.”
—Judges from the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize for American Historical Fiction, Winner for 2014