PEN/Faulkner Award winner Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi returns with a novel about Arezu, who returns to the apartment in Spain where she had a traumatic love affair at 17 with a man more than twice her age. WIth her best friend Ellie, she confronts questions of agency, sexuality, displacement and erasure, crafting between them a story that spans continents and centuries.
By turns brilliant, erotic and piercing, this third novel from PEN/Faulkner award-winner Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi shines new light into how historical oppression, both at a personal and societal level, continues to dominate our present-day thinking. Ostensibly a dissection of an exploitative relationship, the novel quickly broadens into a wide-ranging examination—and skewering—of master narratives around race, gender, sexuality and religion which dictate the way we live now ... Van der Vliet Oloomi reflects the co-existence of pain and pleasure in lush descriptions of the southern Spanish landscape which simultaneously evoke its post-Reconquista history of Jewish and Muslim suppression.
... what Savage Tongues lacks is the kind of historical specificity Lessing's stories were anchored in—it's the sort of book that uses the word 'history' almost every other page, but the histories in question feel overly-broad, and the polemic is more a string of slogans ... It's a strange, hand-waving approach to history. On the one hand it's clear that Oloomi is referring to the history of colonialism and the West's imperial warfare in the lands her characters hail from ... Savage Tongues undercuts its exploration of Arezu's wrenching past by blunting her understanding of the world. There is little consonance in how Oloomi deals with 'history' and Arezu's assault together; the details of her relationship with Omar are complicated and continually questioned, but always with a juxtaposition to histories too oversimplified to support the weight of the comparison. The novel is top-heavy with the outlines of a plot to which few new things are added ... It can be moving ... but it suffers from a sense of repetition and a lack of intrigue ... Oloomi's premise itself is fascinating, and her task certainly made difficult by dint of the novel broadly outlining itself so early on. And every so often—like in a riveting polemic about Arezu's relation to whiteness—the book makes a lot out of a little. But mostly it makes a little out of a lot. Such that whenever the rare polemic arrives, one wishes it would stay.
... a novel of ideas if ever there was one ... Though steeped in sex and haunted by fleshy frights (bloody rags under the sink in the grossly grimy apartment; the blue, bloated face of the woman Arezu might’ve become if she’d stayed; the baby wild boar Omar once forced into Arezu’s backpack), their exorcism is mostly a matter of language, happening on the page.