Silence Is My Mother Tongue
Published by Indigo Press in 2018, Silence is my mother Tongue is Sulaiman Addonia's second novel. Even though the book is not autobiographical, it is possible to make references to Addonia's life experiences: Having fled Eritrea as a child after the Om Hajar massacre in 1976, he spent his early years in a refugee camp in Sudan. A refugee camp in East Africa is also the setting of the novel, whose main character is the young girl Saba, who had to flee with her family abandoning her education and books in this desperate situation. Addonia's impressively describes the atmosphere of the refugee camp from Saba's perspective, paying special attention to the often hostile community, which is foreign to the young girl. Saba not only fights for freedom and education but also protects her mute brother Hagos while both try to resist the gender roles that society imposes on them.
Besides questions of gender and what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman in a society of people who have lost everything, Addonia's sensitively explores the backgrounds and new ways of living of the refugee camp's heterogeneous community. Silence is my mother tongue manages in many places to poetically immerse the reader in the world of Saba's thoughts and allow him to understand the life in the refugee camp through her eyes. The latter can be described by despair and violence, but there is also a tinge of hope and a very close and emotional bond between the two siblings, who live not only with the loss of their past but also with the loss of sense of a future. After all, the novel explores what it means to be a human being trying to survive in a dangerous environment whilst retaining a sense of individuality, what it means to change from citizen to refugee, and illustrates the role of gender in a society composed of a confusing mass of searching for a home.