Silence Is a Steady Hand, Palm Flat

“What you hear is not my voice.

I have not spoken in three years: not since I left boot camp. It has been three years of senseless war, and, if the reasons for it are clear, and though we will continue to fight till we are ordered to stop—and probably for a while after that—none of us could remember the hate that lead us here. We are simply fighting to survive the war.

(…) We have developed a crude way of talking, a sort of language that we have become fluent in. For instance, silence is a steady hand palm flat, facing down. The word silencio, which we also like, involves the same sign, with the addition of wiggling fingers, and though this seems like a playful touch, is actually means a deeper silence, or danger, and as in any language, context is everything.”

My Luck, a fifteen year-old soldier, wakes up after an explosion and discovers his platoon has disappeared. He then decides to go back to the destroyed villages to find his comrades. On the way, My Luck relives his old memories, thinking about his dead parents, his friends, and Ijeoma—his girlfriend who also died in a guerilla attack.

As the journey unfolds, the reader discovers that My Luck cannot speak because his vocal cords have been cut; the boy and his comrades communicate in an invented sign language. My Luck’s language becomes both a means of communication between mute people, but also a poetic and metaphoric way of seeing and understanding the world: silence is “a steady hand”, night—a “palm pulled over the eyes”. Any feeling or notion can be expressed by tangible gestures.

Abani’s brilliant novel is concerned with language and with how people preserve their dignity by communication.

Humans are dependent on language, on expression, on representation, this seems to be his postulate. My Luck’s tone is simple, focusing on the beauty of words and the deep connections communication fosters between people. In spite of the nightmarish things he goes through, My Luck’s luck is his language—and Abani’s novel is proof that communication keeps us alive.

Song for the Night by Chris Abani

9781846590573| 2008| Telegram Books

Review by Ioana Danaila

Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.