The reverberations of life in the refugee camp in which ‘Silence is My Mother Tongue’ dominate the novel; the feeling of suffocation as the characters are stifled by the never-ending feeling is misery and poverty. This is coupled with, however, Addonia’s deep-rooted sense of humanity and powers of perception, his innate sympathy for women, whether it is the prostitute Nasnet, punished, like so many women, by men for the desires she arouses in them and the heroine of the novel, Saba. Addonia is able to render the innate poetry of Saba throughout the novel, from her purple-hued thighs in the sepulchral light of dusk, to her allure as glimpsed in the azure hued hill-top view of the voyeuristic narrator. The world which Addonia conjures up is one of baleful beauty, of the scarlet incandescence of dusk or the glare of the sun and the interplay of light and shadows it creates, so that the images he creates are ones of desperation, hope and beauty and the illusions and mirages which a work of fiction necessitates.
Moreover, ‘Silence is My Mother Tongue’ does away with a large number of gender conventions and sexual tropes; from the relationship between the powerful businessman Eyob and her mute twin-brother Hagos, to the sympathy coalesced with romance experienced between Nasnet and Saba as the former is subjected to a sexual assault by one of her clients, sensuality resonates from every page of the novel, but relationships often play it in ways in which the reader would not expect, passions are left unexplained, desires unexplored, as the characters writhe under the heat of the passions they experience beneath the never-ending glare of the Sudanese sun. What stands out most, however, is Addonia’s sympathetic exploration of the emotional lives of the women in his novel. All of the women, including ones who the reader would find it difficult to sympathise with, such as the mid-wife who enforces FGM, are portrayed with sympathy and depth, although the same could also be said for the male characters as well.
‘Silence is My Mother Tongue’ is a darkly poetic masterpiece and a brilliant distillation of Addonia’s humanism and aesthetics.