MOTHER TONGUE by Emine Sevgi ôzdamar


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 Four tales of identity and exile, published for the first time in English, by an award-winning Turkish-German writer. Rather than writing simply of immigrants' political situation in Germany, ôzdamar focuses on the emotional and spiritual reality of their social experiences. Her stories become increasingly impressionistic until, by the third one, the idea of a recognizable plot is abandoned. This makes for challenging, often frustrating reading, but it can at times be unexpectedly fruitful. In the first two stories, ``Mother Tongue'' and ``Grandfather Tongue,'' ôzdamar conveys her ideas about language and loss through the repetition of often bizarre imagery and phraseology; the technique succeeds in estranging readers from their own language, making them struggle to make sense of the text much as ôzdamar's characters must struggle to make sense of their new language, German, while at the same time attempting to recoup what they have lost of their mother tongue. Reflective in nature, these tales are the most accessible to the average reader. The stories that follow, ``Karagîz in Alamania/Blackeye in Germany'' and ``A Charwoman's Career/Memories of Germany,'' are prohibitively eclectic and esoteric, dealing more generally with the Turkish-German immigrant experience and relying too heavily on allusions to both nations' folk tales and on slang that finally makes them inaccessible. An afterword written by Manguel, editor of the Passport Books series of international fiction to which this collection belongs, is helpful in teasing out the significance of some of the preceding work, but it would have served the reader better as a preface. A difficult book that begins well with some intriguing commentary on language and exile but soon becomes alienating.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-88910-464-6
Page count: 160pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1994


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