Speaking in Tongues

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Speaking in Tongues

Exophonic Writers

The definition of exophony is the practice of (normally creative) writing in a language that is not one’s mother tongue. Allow this to be your introduction to writings such as Lolita by Russian émigré’ author, Vladimir Nabokov and my deep admiration for the quality of the writing sans astonishment that English was not the mother tongue of the author. Enjoy!

Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo: A Novel by Boris Fishman: Russian--American
Adoption is a cultural metaphor in Boris Fishman's new novel, Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo. A Jewish couple originally from Belarus and Ukraine, now living in New Jersey travel to Montana to adopt a baby. When leaving with their child, the last words from the birth parents to the adopting couple Maya and Alex Rubin who are taking their son to New Jersey are, "please don't let my baby do rodeo." Much like in his first novel, the best-selling, A Replacement Life, Fishman uses a healthy dose of history, culture and culinary arts of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. In the story, Maya and Alex's adopted son, Max begins to act oddly. In their eyes, he has become wild, apt to run away, and in love with nature. They begin to wonder if it has something to do with his birth parents, so they decide to track them down. This book isn't one that you will fly through because it is an exciting adventure. It's more of a meandering tale, but worth it.

The Kindly Ones: A Novel by Jonathan Littell: American--French
This book polarized both readers and critics all over the world. They argued on its literary value and scandalous content, “pornocaust” were among the labels. They were poised between admiration for this work Littell has done and themes he researched and final product and message it delivered. The genre itself confounded almost everyone, was it a history novel or quasi document, a literary fiction or fictionalized story?

 A Curse on Dostoevsky by Atiq Ramhimi: Afghan-Persian-French and English
This is a book to read in conjunction with Crime and Punishment. It is definitely a re-telling of the Russian classic. Rahimi's novel is set in Afghanistan. At the beginning, the main character Rassoul murders an aged woman, and the story works on his consequent guilt and his atonement, bearing upon Dostoevsky's character Raskolnikov. The plight of women is also covered in the story.

The Last Great Road Bum by Hector Tobar: Guatemalan—American
A true story turned into a novel. Joe Sanderson had a thirst for adventure and left his middle-class, loving home in Illinois at age 18 to become a self-described “road-bum.” His intent was to explore the world via his travels and turn a narrative into the Great American Novel. He didn’t manage to write the book, but over 20 years he wrote thousands of journal pages and many letters home and these later came into the possession of author Hector Tobar, who turned them into this novel.  These writings were bolstered with interviews with Joe’s family and many of the people he met during his travels. Joe deliberately sought out conflict and war zones and fully immersed himself in the places and situations he found himself in – from Vietnam to Nigeria, to Jamaica, to the revolution in El Salvador. This is not simply a “war story.” There is plenty of romanticism of writing letters and the power of writing, if even for oneself, and how it could come into the hands of a future reader

The Tiger's Wife: A Novel by Tea Obreht: Bosniak—American
This award-winning novel's central question is: "How do people respond to death?"
The setting is the Balkans, an area with complex histories and cultures -- all wrestling with death in one form or another: death from disease, death from poverty and death from violence both small within the walls of a family's home or large-scale as with air raid bombing. Death stalks the people of the Balkans like a tiger -- demonstrating its inherent brutality, grace, and stealth. The characters respond to death in various ways, both literal and symbolic.

The Tiger’s Wife is an ambitious book of depth and meaning, which draws links between troubled aftermath in a war-torn European region, and the backdrop of superstition and myths. There is a theme adopted throughout the book that opposing positions are regularly confronted, such as modern technology and medicine, with fables and folklore.