Sulaiman Addonia’s Silence is My Mother Tongue is a book that I have wanted to read for a while now. Firstly, because I haven’t read as many East African books as I would have loved to, but secondly, because I was curious to know more about the experiences of women in that part of the world. Having now read the book, I can say for a fact that it is, without a doubt, one of the most artistic fictional books that I’ve read so far this year.
‘No, said Azyeb. It shows how much violence there is against women, if even love has to be equated with drawing blood from a woman.’
In a time of war, what is the shape of love?
Saba arrives in an East African refugee camp as a young girl, devastated to have been wrenched from school and forced to abandon her books as her family flees to safety. In this unfamiliar, crowded and often hostile community, she must carve out a new existence. As she struggles to maintain her sense of self, she remains fiercely protective of her mute brother, Hagos – each sibling resisting the roles gender and society assign.
Through a cast of complex, beautifully-drawn characters, Sulaiman Addonia questions what it means to be a man, to be a woman, to be an individual when circumstance has forced the loss of all that makes a home or a future.
Silence is My Mother Tongue is a tale of pain and hope. It is a short book but it took me quite a while to get through it. With words that are both intense and impactful, it’s the kind of prose that reads like poetry – with words that hurt but also give hope.
This book looks at the state of refugee camps from an insider’s perspective. It looks at how citizens become refugees and what that does to them as humans. Addonia looks at how societies and cultures derail and turn into confused masses searching for home. The book depicts how societies (especially displaced ones) bear down on their women, and try to exercise control over something – anything – in the midst of their unfortunate reality.
Silence is My Mother Tongue is a brave and uncompromising book, written in a style that is unambiguous on the one hand and nuanced on the other – depicting societal problems in a manner that is clear but sensitive.
Here is to all the Sabas out there, whose light, many have tried to snuff out, but whose presence can never be denied. May they live on in our minds.
‘But I carry my history in my blood.’
*Thanks to Indigo for sending a copy of the book for review.