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Silence Is My Mother Tongue

A Novel
Sulaiman Addonia
On a hill overlooking a refugee camp in Sudan, a young man strings up bedsheets that, in an act of imaginative resilience, will serve as a screen in his silent cinema. From the cinema he can see all the comings and goings in the camp, especially those of two new arrivals: a girl named Saba, and her mute brother, Hagos.

For these siblings, adapting to life in the camp is not easy. Saba mourns the future she lost when she was forced to abandon school, while Hagos, scorned for his inability to speak, must live vicariously through his sister. Both resist societal expectations by seeking to redefine love, sex, and gender roles in their lives, and when a businessman opens a shop and befriends Hagos, they cast off those pressures and make an unconventional choice.

With this cast of complex, beautifully drawn characters, Sulaiman Addonia details the textures and rhythms of everyday life in a refugee camp, and questions what it means to be an individual when one has lost all that makes a home or a future. Intimate and subversive, Silence Is My Mother Tongue dissects the ways society wages war on women and explores the stories we must tell to survive in a broken, inhospitable environment.

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A sensuous, textured novel of life in a refugee camp, longlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction

About the Author

Sulaiman Addonia spent his early life in a refugee camp and went on to earn an MA from the University of London. His novel The Consequences of Love was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and translated into more than twenty languages.
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  • “Sulaiman Addonia places his incandescent heroine, the Eritrean-born Saba, in the scorching heat and press of a Sudanese refugee camp, where the story of her unfolding is skillfully intertwined with what it means to survive and even thrive amidst cultural taboos on sexuality. An accomplished and circuitously constructed tale.”—Ru Freeman, author of On Sal Mal Lane
  • “Sulaiman Addonia gives voice to a pair of memorable, indelibly drawn characters. The story of Saba and Hagos is written with visceral empathy and haunting power. This is a book that lays it on the line—and the line holds, tautly, beautifully.”—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company
  • “Addonia’s chorus of characters is exquisite, and his interrogation of both traditionalism and love in the desperate circumstances of a Sudanese refugee camp makes for a stunning, enveloping read.”—Wayétu Moore, author of The Dragons, the Giant, The Women
  • “Stunning. Addonia’s prose layers imagery and insight to keep us glued right to the spectacular end. This is a splendid, compulsive reading experience.”—Maaza Mengiste
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