cover image The Tongue of Adam

The Tongue of Adam

Abdelfattah Kilito, trans. from the Arabic by Robyn Creswell. New Directions, $13.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2493-2

In this slim volume based on his lecture series, prominent Moroccan writer Kilito muses on the origins of multilingualism via an analysis of the historical debate about what language Adam and his family spoke. Citing an array of sources—medieval Arab theologians, the Hebrew Bible, Herodotus, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II—he opens up a new world for his reader, demonstrating the religious and philosophical urgency this question held for many through history and the many forms it has taken, including debates over whether poetry could be written by Adam and experiments with depriving children of language. Kilito treats his history with respect (especially considering the implications and controversial nature of the questions) and, with his blend of erudition and whimsy, comparisons to Borges are inevitable. Yet his commentary on the age-old debate, though minimal and mostly contained in an afterword, reveals his personal connection to the subject as a writer in both French and Arabic, making the work both poignant and relevant for contemporary readers. Fans of Kilito’s work should be pleased here, and those who have never read him should be intrigued this introduction. (Dec.)