'Silence is my mother tongue'

ven. 10.09.2021
20:00 - 22:00
Sulaiman Addonia © Lyse Ishimwe
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interview, présentation


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On the release of the Dutch translation of his acclaimed novel Silence Is My Mother Tongue, author Sulaiman Addonia talks to journalist Gie Goris and writers Annelies Verbeke and Ubah Cristina Ali Farah.

refugee camp

With Silence Is My Mother Tongue, the Eritrean-Ethiopian-British writer Sulaiman Addonia finally broke through to the general public. The novel, while it draws on his experiences as a child in a refugee camp, is not an autobiographical story. The characters and storylines are based on his observations and on the smells, colours, and stories he has collected during his life. Through a cast of intriguing characters, Addonia explores what it means to be a man, a woman, an individual, when you no longer have a home or future.

‘Trauma not only does something to your head and body; it also does something to your soul. Migrants and refugees don't talk enough about why it is that some of us break down while others get back on their feet.’
– Sulaiman Addonia

new existence

In the novel, we follow Saba and her mute brother Hagos. Forced to abandon her school and books to flee with her family, Saba arrives at an East African refugee camp. In this unfamiliar, chaotic, and often hostile environment, the young girl must carve out a new existence. Doing her best to remain true to herself, she is determined to protect Hagos. Both the brother and sister refuse to conform to the roles imposed on them by gender and society. Addonia gives a razor-sharp analysis of how a society can declare war on its own women, and tells the stories that we need to survive in a hostile environment.


Somali-Italian author Ubah Cristina Ali Farah was one of the first readers of Silence Is My Mother Tongue. At the book presentation, she discusses her reading experience with Sulaiman Addonia and journalist Gie Goris. During the presentation, writer Annelies Verbeke pays tribute to Sulaiman Addonia and tells us what makes his new novel so special.

Sulaiman Addonia is an Eritrean-Ethiopian-British writer. His first novel, The Consequences of Love, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and has been published in more than 20 languages. Silence Is My Mother Tongue was longlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and shortlisted for the 2021 Lambda Awards. Addonia lives in Brussels, where he founded a writing academy for refugees and organizes the annual Asmara-Addis Literature Festival. He is a columnist at De Standaard newspaper.

Organization: Passa Porta, Muntpunt, Uitgeverij Jurgen Maas.

picture sulaiman addonia © lyse ishimwe

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