This vivid and insightful examination into life at a refugee camp is filled with colourful characters that hold the story together beautifully.
Written by Sulaiman Addonia, Silence is My Mother Tongue offers a bold and at times shocking insight into what life can be like living in a refugee camp as seen through the eyes of Saba, a young girl who longs for freedom and education. But as well as trying to fight for her freedom, Saba is fiercely protective of her mute brother Hagos – their bond the only thing that both can feel certain of in this dangerous world in which they live in.
Taking place in an East African refugee camp, Silence is My Mother Tongue paints a vivid picture of a group of desperate people from all backgrounds trying to carve out a new way of living in a different kind of community, creating new traditions and rules based on the way in which they live. The way in which Addonia has created these characters and ties them all together to create this uncertain world in which they live in makes this a compelling read.
But it is also the way in which Addonia has written the story – there is a poetic quality to the descriptions of everything that Saba hears and sees throughout that the reader feels genuinely inside her head. The language that the author has carefully used draws the reader further into this violent, desperate but with a tinge of hope existence that Saba and her family are living in.
Yes there are moments during which it can come across as stilted and feels more like snap shots of life rather than the whole picture that can make it difficult to get to know and understand the characters, but the book also conveys the different relationships between them all to add an emotional core.
In particular, it is the very close bond between Saba and her brother Hagos that is fascinating to read about. Both resist the roles that gender and society offer them – leaving you wanting to know more about their background and life before fleeing their home, despite the little pieces of information about their story the reader is given. Their closeness again has been beautifully written and you long for them both to find a way out of the camp and this existence.
Silence is My Mother Tongue effectively explores what it means to be human and how it is possible to survive and still retain a sense of individuality, even when you have lost your home and a sense of a future. It is a powerful and at times brutal read that leaves the reader under no false impression of just how dangerous and certain this way of life is for those forced to live in a refugee camp. Well worth a read.
By Emma Clarendon
Silence is My Mother Tongue will be published on the 25th October.