Rocklin, David. “The Night Language: A Novel”, Rare Bird Books, 2017.
Love, Loss and Repression
Prince Alamayou of Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia), is taken from his home and the Abyssinian war to the court of Queen Victoria and to a world he knows nothing about. Philip Layard, a young apprentice to one of the doctors on the battlefield in Abyssinia, becomes Alamayou’s guardian, only friend, and eventually, the love of his life. Then when Parliament accuses Alamayou of murder, the young prince is sentenced to return to Abyssinia where he will be executed. Alamayou’s only hope comes from the unexpected and forbidden love between him and Philip but at that time, it could not be spoken about.
The prose here is gorgeous and it packs an emotional and unexpected wallop. I find this to be a beautiful meditation on loneliness and being the other. This is storytelling at its best and I find myself haunted by what I read. Forbidden love, loneliness and loss go hand-in-hand with the price one pays to be repressed.
The love that Alamayou and Philip share reflects the complexity of social and political relationships. We look at sexuality, race, class, love, and war and we hope for the best for the two lovers. Rocklin brings gender, race, the past and the evils of colonialism together and then pits them against war, wealth and its privileges, xenophobia and love’s power. We go back in history to revisit what many have forgotten about— a time when one’s life was not his own and we see the contradiction of Queen Victoria taking Alamayou to her court while at the same time providing him with a steward that joins him in forbidden love and intimacy. We see what can happen when those who rule listen to foreign voices.