Monday, July 15, 2019

Native Tongue

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
The Feminist Press at CUNY: rerelease 7/16/19
eBook review copy; 327 pages
ISBN-13: 9781936932634 

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin is a highly recommended classic dystopian novel which was originally published in 1984 and is currently being re-released. This is the first book in a three book series.

In 2205 the Nineteenth Amendment has long been repealed. Men hold absolute power. Women are treated as children who must always be supervised by men and any of their actions require male approval. The only value women hold is to provide children. The current world-wide economy depends upon trade with other cultures, including alien. The Chornyak family is a powerful family of translators who raise their children, daughters included, to be linguists. All their members speak multiple languages and are used as translators in sensitive negotiations.
Nazareth Adiness is a brilliant linguist and the most talented of the Chornyak family. As with all translators she has been working since she was young and is a valuable asset to the family, yet she still has to endure an arranged marriage as a teen and the expectation that she will have a large number of children (while still working). Once women are past child bearing years or deemed infertile, they are moved to Barren House, to keep the older women from causing any drama in the main house.

Unknown to any man is that the useless older women of Barren house have been working together to make up a secret language of their own, a language that will only be taught to women and one they can use to communicate with each other without the men's interference. The women are preparing for a coming revolution where they will remove themselves from the control of men.
It's rather surprising to me that I never came across Native Tongue before this reissued edition. The world building depicts a misogynistic society in a realistic manner. We currently have cultures/societies where women have no rights and men are in control. It is an interesting concept, but certainly Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is over all a better novel with more depth and clarity of characters. The society is too divided here, too bad versus good, with men versus women, and all men bad. It is interesting, certainly the discussion of languages was interesting, but it also was a bit too simplistic.
First, I was engrossed in the narrative and found the whole concept fascinating, but I can't say it was especially well written as a novel. The character development is superficial. Perhaps the main issue I had was the implausibility that the Nineteenth Amendment would ever be repealed and all women would just submit. Even today there are women who fight back against certain societies that have patriarchal cultural expectations to control women. Not all women will submit; there will always be some women who will fight for their freedom and rights. I'm highly recommending it for some of the science fiction concepts presented. 3.5 rounded up.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of The Feminist Press at CUNY.

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