Cover of Homeless Tongues by Monique R. Balbuena
Homeless Tongues
Poetry and Languages of the Sephardic Diaspora
Monique R. Balbuena


256 pages.

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Hardcover ISBN: 9780804760119
Ebook ISBN: 9780804797498

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Finalist for the 2016 National Jewish Book Awards in the category of Sephardic Culture, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council.

This book examines a group of multicultural Jewish poets to address the issue of multilingualism within a context of minor languages and literatures, nationalism, and diaspora. It introduces three writers working in minor or threatened languages who challenge the usual consensus of Jewish literature: Algerian Sadia Lévy, Israeli Margalit Matitiahu, and Argentine Juan Gelman. Each of them—Lévy in French and Hebrew, Matitiahu in Hebrew and Ladino, and Gelman in Spanish and Ladino—expresses a hybrid or composite Sephardic identity through a strategic choice of competing languages and intertexts. Monique R. Balbuena's close literary readings of their works, which are mostly unknown in the United States, are strongly grounded in their social and historical context. Her focus on contemporary rather than classic Ladino poetry and her argument for the inclusion of Sephardic production in the canon of Jewish literature make Homeless Tongues a timely and unusual intervention.

About the author

Monique Rodrigues Balbuena is Associate Professor of Literature in the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.

"A splendid work that will be a fascinating read for all those who are interested in Jewish literatures and languages and in poetology."

—Lazar Fleishman, Stanford University.

"In this book, Monique Balbuena rescues three Sephardi poets from near oblivion. Significant on their own, together they challenge the usual canons of Jewish literature and the general consensus on Jewish languages, as well as the standard theories of minority literatures."

—Nancy E. Berg, Washington University

"The close readings that the author provides make the work of these three poets accessible to anyone interested in multilingual, transnational poetry and in the Jewish literary repertoire...Homeless Tongues therefore does more than expand specific canons (of Jewish literatures, of world literatures, and of literatures, to use Rebecca Walkowitz's terms, that are "born translated"). The book ultimately shows that linguistic diversity is good for people and good for democracy, which also is what makes Homeless Tongues so significant and timely in the current political climate."

—Tabea Alexa Linhard, Shofar: Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

"Monique Balbuena shifts between theoretical arguments and a meticulous analysis of poems by the three authors, providing us a deep reading of the texts. At the same time, she places the poems in a changing context, using interpretive tools from literary theory. The author's contribution is an original and ambitious one: it allows us to see relationships that aren't always evident and it offers new insight into 20th-century Jewish literary history."

—Elisa Martín Ortega, Sefarad

"Homeless Tongues has opened a new path for Sephardic scholarship....Homeless Tongues takes a crucial step forward in assigning value to contemporary Sephardic literature....Balbuena also provides a much needed summary of the field of Jewish Spanish, Sephardic studies, and contemporary Sephardic culture in general. The reference section of the monograph—almost as large as her lengthy chapters—provides a veritable gold mine for future scholarship."

—Judith K. Lang Hilgartner, Studies in Contemporary Jewry

"The great strength of this volume lies in its expert close readings, which in their unusual length and detail offer a rare opportunity for a reader to become intimate with unfamiliar sources....Balbuena's analysis of Sephardic, in general, and Ladino, in particular, poetic production addresses a major gap in research on Jewish literature. The perspectives elaborated in this book are valuable for any scholar of minor languages or literatures, and they will be particularly useful to those interested in the increasingly vital field of Sephardic studies."

—Harry Eli Kashdan, Symposium