Silence is my mother tongue A novel

Sulaiman S. M. Y. Addonia

Book - 2020

A searing novel of immigration, judgement and sacrifice and the powerful bonds forged in the crucible of refugee camp life from an internationally-acclaimed writer, Silence is My Mother Tongue dissects society's ability to wage war on its own women and explores the stories we must tell to survive in a broken, inhospitable environment.

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FICTION/Addonia Sulaiman
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Social problem fiction
Main Author
Sulaiman S. M. Y. Addonia (author)
Physical Description
194 pages ; 21 cm
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Addonia (The Consequences of Love) chronicles the lives of two siblings in a Sudanese refugee camp in his darkly poetic second novel. At the center is a young woman named Saba, whom the reader glimpses through the eyes of various other characters. The first of these is close friend Jamal, who has fashioned a makeshift theater in the camp using a bedsheet. At the book's outset, Saba is about to be placed on trial by a "court" administered in the camp for the spurious charge of incest with her mute older brother, Hagos. The remainder of the novel consists of short, loosely arranged flashbacks and occasional returns to the present narrative. Saba is inseparable from Hagos, and her circle also includes a fearful mother; a menacing character known only as "the midwife"; and Saba's confidante, Zahra, with whom she shares poetry and her deepest hopes. A businessman named Tedros arrives with his son, Eyob, and wagging camp tongues conjecture that Tedros plans to marry Saba, who is heartened when Eyob befriends Hagos. Against a background of desperation, poverty, and constant abuse, Saba dreams of education, escape, and a life free from oppression. The author maintains a strong voice with vibrant lyrical imagery, but the shuffled structure and murky chronology can puzzle more than enlighten. Still, Addonia casts a consistent spell on the reader. (Sept.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A headstrong young woman and her brother attempt to rebuild their lives in a refugee camp. At the opening of Addonia's novel, court is in session. For the refugees in a Sudanese camp for those fleeing Eritrea, trials are held in the ersatz cinema where skits are sometimes put on with cardboard figures. The accused is a young woman called Saba; her alleged crime, incest with her mute brother, Hagos. As Saba awaits her verdict, the novel takes us back in time to illuminate how so many in the community have turned on her. Stubborn, intelligent, and bold, Saba excelled at school and wanted to attend university before her life was uprooted. She also has complicated ancestry: half-Eritrean, half-Ethiopian, "half from an occupied country and the other half from the occupying....Half of her was at war with the other half." Saba's more traditionally masculine qualities are balanced by Hagos, who is "the girl [their] mother had always wanted," taking care of the domestic work and taking an interest in Saba's hair, makeup, and clothing. Unable to understand either sibling's unorthodoxies, the growing community in the camp attempts to police their adherence to traditions. As more refugees arrive, Saba and Hagos draw increasing scrutiny until these outside forces threaten to overwhelm their seemingly unbreakable bond. Addonia's greatest strength is the arresting image, imbued with symbolism--as when a man tears a newspaper into pieces and the crowd scatters "in different directions with broken sentences" or when a girl is sentenced to physically carry the man she allegedly seduced on her back through the camp as punishment--while the novel's vignette structure underscores the fragmentary, hallucinatory quality of trauma and memory. A memorable chronicle about "the bitterness of exile" and the endurance of the spirit. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.