As the title, Mother Tongue, suggests one of the key themes of this collection of stories is the complex relationship between language and intimacy. One’s mother tongue is the language most intrinsic to one’s very being. It is the means by which we emerge from sensory chaos and isolation to understanding and communication. It’s our familial language, the means by which we first name emotion, by which we first experience intellect. All other languages are translations, and translation implies approximation, loss, and miscommunication whether of an image, an idea, or an emotion. Yet as my characters discover, even two people who literally speak the same language, even a mother and a daughter, often find themselves stepping shakily on slippery stones as they negotiate the rushing waters of communication. Perhaps even more confounding is when our own language fails us as we try to understand ourselves and our places in the larger world. The stories in Mother Tongue examine moments of struggle to maintain balance as we traverse the treacherous waters of life and love.
I’ve spent twenty years writing this collection, and in some ways, the stories themselves reflect my own deepening belief in the ability of fiction to bring us closer to other people than any other artistic medium. In a way, fiction brings us closer to another person than in actual life. Think of the people you know best in the world, the people who know you best. You still can’t get inside their inner worlds and experience their thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they feel them. In certain types of fiction, we can enter the internal worlds of others, people we might pass in the street without glance, and we can experience their ways of being in the world, of making sense of themselves, and of justifying their best and worst actions. My goal in these stories has been to create this kind of intimacy and to create characters whose depths and complexities bring their humanity into sharp relief for the reader.