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.
... 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.
... therein lies one of the weaknesses of the novel: We never fully learn what happened ... The narrative, told from the depths of Arezu’s internal point of view, circles and repeats and inspects the emotional impact of whatever her trauma was. And while this is a realistic response to trauma, it is not a particularly effective way to write a story ... The flashbacks of that summer are sparse and get to be somewhat redundant ... these ideas — interesting as they are — can be didactic without a robust narrative to fold them into ... s at its best a little more than halfway through, when Arezu and Ellie are fully present on the page together. Scenes begin to emerge, character interactions develop ... Some parts of Savage Tongues read like a heady, contemplative essay exploring the nature of personal and historical trauma. Others tell the story of a powerful, essential friendship and how it might help to ease the pain of such trauma. Each of these ways of telling are fine, and in this case, well written. Side by side, though, they can be unbalanced, each coming off a little half-formed. Neither this nor that.