Mother Tongue by Julie Mayhew
Published: August 2016 by Hot Key Books
Source: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 5 stars
From the blurb: Darya Ivanova is looking forward to September. She has looked after her little sister, Nika, since she was a baby. Now Nika is starting school. Maybe Darya can find a job with her own tidy desk. Perhaps even a boyfriend. But when an unimaginable tragedy strikes, Darya's life plans are fractured. Stalled. She is afraid. What if she never knows real love? What if she never finds somewhere she belongs?If only she could get to Moscow. There, Darya could escape. There, she could become someone else . . .
I've been wanting to read Julie Mayhew's books for years now, so when I heard about the release of her third book, Mother Tongue, I knew I had to read it.
Set in Saratov in 2004, eighteen year old Darya Ivanova is preparing for her future. She has cared for her little sister since she was eleven years old, after her mother developed post-natal depression. Darya loves Nika, but she is ready for her to start school so that she can finally get a job and start her own life. But a siege at the school changes everything.
I was immediately captivated by Darya. She hasn't had the easiest of childhoods, but she's borne it well, rarely showing Nika how hopeless and lonely she feels. She feels abandoned by her mother, but still loves her family. She grew up speaking Russian but when they moved to town, she learnt Ossetian, and it's the language Nika grew up speaking. She's a character that is easy to relate to and empathise with. Her grief and guilt after the attack was absolutely heartbreaking, as was watching the different ways in which her family members chose to cope with their pain.
Darya's story felt timeless. At first I thought this was set further back in history, perhaps in the 70s or 80s. But, the mention of electronic items like laptops gave me a hint that this was a lot more recent, and towards the end of the book the year is finally revealed to be 2004.
When I started reading, I had no idea the story was based on the real events of the Beslan school siege. There's a lengthy author's note explaining her interest in the subject and why she decided to write this story. It's not a decision she made lightly, and this was shown through her sensitive and respectful narrative. The Russian cultural elements felt well researched and were vetted by natives, so the story felt authentic.
Mother Tongue is the story of a girl coming of age after facing a tragedy. It's about finding your true home and deciding on what you want for your future. It's beautifully written and will leave you sad but hopeful.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my copy. RRP A$19.99.
Art direction: Nick Stearn / Design: Rachel Lawston
I love the simplicity of the cover, and it ties in with the story perfectly. I used Barry M Cobalt Blue for the base, Zoya Maura for the Ruffian nails, China Glaze White Out for the balloons, and acrylic paint for the birds.