MOTHER TONGUE by JULIE MAYHEW. REVIEW by PHEEBS

Darya always cared for her little sister when no one else wanted to look after her. An absent-minded father, an absent mother, and two adolescent brothers don’t quite fit the bill for a happy family. But after the family is fractured further by an act of tragedy and terrorism, Darya starts to long for the old days.

Darya doesn’t handle the fallout well, and it is easy to see how she gradually loses her identity. Two places divide her mind and become all-encompassing: her home village and Moscow. At home, she cannot escape the reminders of what happened, cannot escape her grief. To distract her from her morbid and claustrophobic present, she dreams of the future, and of Moscow, to which all the surviving children are escaping.

Soon the huge city becomes a symbol of hope and success, and a way to forget the past. While Darya is stuck in her home village, she knows that she will never be able to leave the memories behind. But in her repeated attempts to travel to Moscow, she finds that it may not be the key to living with the past after all…

I found it a challenging yet vivid book. It deals with controversial issues, and explores the consequences of death and loss. I felt that every emotion was carefully handled to be as realistic and immersive as possible, and I could empathise with Darya on every point.

There is always an underlying optimism to keep the characters from losing hope. For this reason, seeing the family and friends slapped down with each new occurring hardship, but refusing to surrender to despair, makes reading it an experience that challenges all of your emotions.

Developing the plotline in arcs and curves, this book shows that trying new things may not result in what you hoped for, but can show you something else that is better.


Julie joins Kit de Waal and Keith Stuart at the Unbroken Voices event, details here