Father Tongue

Danielle Lagah - Bio and Media
pb / 2007-04 / Poetry /
9780889822351 / 112pp / $17.95

Father Tongue is a poetic exploration of one family’s Indo-Canadian immigrant experience. The family’s stories of life in India and Canada are told in several voices, but the lens through which they are focused is the consciousness of the narrator—a young woman of mixed blood who is seeking to find her footing between two conflicting worlds. Bringing together the legends, secrets, and facts of her family’s history, she unearths and pieces together the stories of grief and triumph that will ultimately serve to illuminate her own truths. There is the story of Piari, her father’s sister, who was mysteriously poisoned to death at the age of seven in the family’s Indian village of Pubwan; the story of her father’s battle with a childhood illness believed to be caused by supernatural possession. And there is the story of the narrator’s own journey to the land of her ancestors—one that is marked by revelation and discovery of the purest kind. These are tales of betrayal and cruelty, death and birth, joy, and fierce love—in a word, family stories.

It’s been said that we can “reclaim truth from the lies of poetry.” Father Tongue uses the language of poetry to bridge the chasm between two cultures, two worlds separated by barriers of language, tradition, geography, history, and very different ways of viewing the world. Through poetry, the author has chosen to record, preserve, and ultimately construct her narrative. The two worlds of the book—the dream-like landscape of far away India, and the concrete reality of the West Coast—are depicted in poems that merge verse with elements of prose and scripting, a method that serves to echo Father Tongue’s themes of disconnectedness and cultural blending.

“Lagah’s poems are beautiful, lucid stepping stones through the rivers of imagination that surround her south Asian heritage. This is not a bridge between cultures, but a palimpsest: a document of Lagah’s own life writ- ten between the lines of inherited and witnessed stories of village, family, illness and disappearance—streams that feed a narration that began with her father’s tales of a secret garden in India. A unique, inclusive journey through the world of emigration, difference and adaptation, written with exceptional clarity.” —Marilyn Bowering