Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

It’s been barely two days since Sulaiman Addonia’s second novel, Silence is My Mother Tongue, was published, so it is a real treat to read his new essay published in Granta.

Addonia is an Eritrea-born British novelist. After the Om Hajar massacre in 1976, he moved to a refugee camp in Sudan and later to Saudi Arabia. When he arrived in London, a young boy, he knew hardly any English. This experience of loss haunts his writing about modes of exposure that reveal the essences of life, art, and the body.

In the essay, titled “Writing Like Degas Paints,” Adonnia reminds us of the power of the body to ignite artistic imagination and feed creative passion. He opens the essay with a story about his first encounter with Degas’s work. One of Degas’ painting in which a naked woman is bathing in a large bucket stayed with him over time. This interest in Degas’ representations of nude women laid the foundation for his thinking on what he calls  “the power of nudity.”

For Adonnia, nudity is not just a way of representing the body in art and writing. It is a way of experiencing the body and placing it with the context of performance. For him, nudity is exposure that gets us to the heart of life, after history, our surroundings, and our many artificial identities have been peeled off.

Enjoy this little excerpt where he details the revelation brought on by his experience with nudity.

I remember the day I stood in front of a mirror naked after a dance. I opened my body to my own inquisitive stare. I wasn’t looking at the massacre I had survived as a two-year old boy, the years I spent in a remote camp, and those that followed in Saudi Arabia. My image of myself now wasn’t disturbed by the challenges I had faced in London. I was looking at this half-Eritrean, half-Ethiopian man still standing, still dancing. Nudity enabled me to see me and not all that surrounded me. As I looked at the pictures I had taken of myself in different poses, unclothed by fabric or history, I began to discover things buried deep inside me: the woman in me as well as the man, the immigrant, the wanderer, the silent boy, the stubborn, flawed human being that I am. I was more than a refugee. I was one hundred other things too.

Taking these nude self-portraits inspired me to look beyond the obvious. So when the Ethiopian painter in my novel, who had studied art in Paris, complains that he can’t find a model to paint, his mind opens up when he finds himself standing in front of Hagos, my male character. The painter realises that a muse isn’t necessarily a woman. So he asks Hagos if he could pose naked for him. A male body can be a paragon of beauty too.

Today my novel is finally finished, ten years after I encountered Degas’s painting in Paris. Silence is My Mother Tongue is first of all a portrait of us, Eritreans–Ethiopians, of our intimate world, and the things we see when we dare to undress ourselves of our history. That even in the middle of ruins and tragedies, there are many beautiful things we hold inside us that we come to see once bathing naked in the glorious details of our own humanity.

Read more

 

Adonnia’s first novel The Consequences of Love was published in 2008. Indigo Press recently published his second titled Silence is My Mother Tongue.

Tags: ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

15 Pieces to Guide Your Understanding of Xenophobia in (South) Africa

xenophobia in south africa - photo by guillerme sartori for agence france press and getty images

Once again, this September, xenophobic violence was unleashed on other Africans, mostly Nigerians, in South Africa: businesses were closed, shops […]

Johary Ravaloson’s Return to the Enchanted Island Is the Second Novel from Madagascar to Be Translated into English

johary ravaloson - winds from elsewhere - graph (1)

In May 2018, we brought news of the first novel by a writer from Madagascar to be translated into English: […]

Sundays at Saint Steven’s | Davina Philomena Kawuma | Poetry

unsplash3

when god runs out of money (how, no one says) once a week, these days, we come to where the […]

Read the First Excerpt from Petina Gappah’s New Novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light

petina gappah - out of darkness, shining light - graph

Petina Gappah‘s new novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light was released on 10 September by Simon & Schuster imprint Scribner. […]

We Need To Talk | Muriel Adhiambo | Fiction

unsplash4

IT WAS A warm, humid night in the lakeside city of Kisumu. Under a starless sky, the women, seated on […]

For World Diabetes Day, Miss BloodSugar Calls for Entries to Competition & Anthology Sponsored by Bella Naija

mbs final edit

Press release: What’s your diabetes story? Are you diabetic? Have you been impacted by the experiences of a family/friend/patient with […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.