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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intruiging and illuminating travel book
The author travels with her husband and 2 young children through Europe in search of "tribal Europe" - Europe's (mostly)stateless "tribes" such as the Catalans, Bretons, Macedonians & others, including some you probably haven't heard of. She investigates their history , politics, language and lifestyles and paints a lively picture of Europe's nooks & crannies. Though...
Published on 1 Jan 2003

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The trials of Tallulah and Xanthe
The idea of the book tempted me to buy it, though I wish I'd been warned off by the reviewer who commented that it would have been improved by less information about the author's kids. It is less a book about the minority languages of Europe and more a family diary of an overlong holiday. I was torn between feeling sorry for Tallulah (being dragged away from her friends...
Published on 20 Feb 2003


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The trials of Tallulah and Xanthe, 20 Feb 2003
By A Customer
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This review is from: Mother Tongues: Travels through Tribal Europe (Paperback)
The idea of the book tempted me to buy it, though I wish I'd been warned off by the reviewer who commented that it would have been improved by less information about the author's kids. It is less a book about the minority languages of Europe and more a family diary of an overlong holiday. I was torn between feeling sorry for Tallulah (being dragged away from her friends to live in a converted lorry) and wishing the child would behave well enough so that there could be more information on the topic the book is supposed to be about.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intruiging and illuminating travel book, 1 Jan 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Mother Tongues: Travels through Tribal Europe (Paperback)
The author travels with her husband and 2 young children through Europe in search of "tribal Europe" - Europe's (mostly)stateless "tribes" such as the Catalans, Bretons, Macedonians & others, including some you probably haven't heard of. She investigates their history , politics, language and lifestyles and paints a lively picture of Europe's nooks & crannies. Though rather low on humour, and containing rather more trivia about her children than I wanted to know, it's a compelling and illuminating read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating subject but next time leave the kids at home..., 19 Jan 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Mother Tongues: Travels through Tribal Europe (Paperback)
I bought this book for its fascinating subject matter but as I read I found myself increasingly distracted and irritated by the presence of two badly-behaved children and by their parents' indulgent attitude to their behaviour. The author has completely disregarded the principle that one's children are profoundly fascinating only to their own parents, and I really could have done without details of Tallulah's toilet visits and nose-picking.
That said, I gained good insights into the psyche of stateless ethnic minorities in Europe, but unfortunately for me this was overshadowed by the endless minutiae of family life in a camper van.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars read this great book, 1 Mar 2006
This review is from: Mother Tongues: Travels through Tribal Europe (Paperback)
I love this book. It weaves together two strands, about the endangered minorities of Europe, and about travelling quite rough with a young family over a period of 18 months. Each really enhances the other. The story is about Helena Drysdale and her husband and two daughters (one still a baby) who set off in a camper van to discover more about the little-known peoples of Europe - the Sami, Basques, Corsicans and so on. She immersed herself in these peoples' culture, discovering all she could about what makes them tick: their languages, history, literature, music. But when the story threatens to get bogged down in esoteric details of linguistics, you cut back to daily family life. This acts as a sort of leavening - it lightens the tone, and is often very funny.
I have never raad a book like this before, which is so ambitious in its scope - covering most of western Europe. Each chapter is almost like a book in its own right, and has been thoroughly researched, while never being too heavy.
I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the endangered peoples of Europe, whose lives are at risk almsot as much as the endangered plants and animals we hear so much more about.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Travels Among European Minorities, 9 Jan 2005
By 
Laszlo Wagner (Hungary) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This book is a mixture of a travelogue, investigative journalism and history combined, written by a sympathetic amateur.
The author set out with her husband and two small children in a mobile home to visit many of the stateless minorities living in Western Europe, from the Sami in northern Scandinavia to the Sardinians in the South, from the Macedonians in the Balkans to the Breton in the West. Regrettably, Gaelic-speaking minorities of Britain and Ireland are omitted from the book.
Though I was somewhat baffled by her often decidedly ad hoc approach to finding informants and the family's hippy or gypsy style travel (complete with unwashed clothes and lice), overall she has presented a fascinating look at Europe from a very unusual angle.
Reading about often tiny minorities struggling to preserve their identity, culture and language under rather different circumtances in the various European countries, one can't fail to be shocked by the ignorance or even hostility exhibited towards them by many of the supposedly democratic nation states they live in.
Rather than case studies presented in a dry, academic manner, the fate of each group and their language is depicted through personal impressions of them and their lands by a layman (well, woman) and personal accounts of various members of these "tribes". This manages to bring the issue to life, giving us a good feel of what the minorities themselves think about their own history, present situation and future prospects.
As the title suggests, one of the focal points of the author's investigation was the fate of the mother tongues of these minorities, and she presents an often sad, yet sometimes cautiously optimistic picture of past (sometimes even present) opression, lethargic neglect, and passionate efforts to turn back the process of assimilation and extinction.
While those preferring just to get the essential facts and statistical data are advised to look elsewhere, this book can be an absorbing read for those who wish to get to know the human faces of Europe's endangered minority native peoples and languages.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Mirrors And Reveals The Realities of Europe, 20 Jan 2002
As a Gaelic speaker from the Outer Hebrides, reading Helena Drysdale's 'Mother Tongues' was like stepping into an amazing Hall of Mirrors - in which my own experience was reflected back in a thousand bewildering and distorted ways.
In its pages, the author records how she and her family undertook an eighteen month odyssey around Europe, visiting a number of the linguistic minorities that exist both at the centre and fringes of our continent. Heading to its southern edge, they met such people as the Basques and Catalans of the Iberian peninsula, the Sardinians and Corsicans from their respective islands in the Mediterranean. In Europe's opposite extreme, they encountered other islanders - such as the Alanders whose home lies in the Baltic Sea - and also the Sami, a group whose wanderings once crossed many national boundaries but are now mainly resident in Finland. En route, she also made the acquaintances of other cultures - from the Flemings and Walloons who live nose-to-nose (and sometimes almost fist-to-face) in modern Belgium to other lesser known peoples, such as the Friesians or the Ladin, a group from Northern Italy I, for one, had never heard about before.
Yet for all the differences between these groupings, it was the similarities between them that interested this reader most. History provided one mirror. Throughout their existence, most of the nation-states to which these peoples belonged refused to recognise any identity except the predominant, central culture of their country. With a few relevant deletions and substitutions, the words of a French Minister of Education in 1925 could easily have been repeated on the lips of any Spanish, Italian, even British government minister of that time;
'The only one who is truly French in heart and soul, and from head to toe, is he who knows and can speak and read the French language'.
They were similar, too, in the way that, for much of their history, central authorities treated those who spoke minority languages. A stick, stone or even a pottery cow would be hung around the necks of those who sullied their mouths with the knowledge of Welsh, Provencal, or Scottish Gaelic they had brought from their homes into school. Even after this practice ended, however, some form of humiliation still continued. Helena Drysdale, for instance, sees great similarities between the work of the Scottish and Hebridean writer, Finlay J. Macdonald and the writings of the Breton, Pierre Jakez-Helias in his autobiography, 'The Horse Of Pride'. It was the same world they inhabited, the same challenges and demands they faced.
Drysdale is also good in the way she identifies how people who have two linguistic identities face up to their dilemma. Within Spain, for instance, two minorities - the Catalans and Basques - have reacted in opposite ways. The former have almost abandoned their plans for political independence, settling instead for becoming the economic powerhouse of that country. In contrast, many of the Basque people still dream of their own country, perhaps, in response to the way so many of their people suffered under the rule of Franco.
In addition, she poses many interesting questions; some of which I hear echoed within the borders of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Can a person belong to a locality without speaking its native language? Why is it often incomers who are most enthusiastic about the rights and culture of a minority? What is the value of bilingualism? Do certain peoples use language to exclude - or include - others? What makes a nation?...
The parts of the book that were the most irritating were those distracting the reader from these and similar questions. Over the past few years, there have been an increasing number of travel books that have featured the most outlandish forms of transport. (Good readers will know the type. They possess titles like 'Travelling on a tandem across Turkey.', 'Hopping round Hungary.', 'Scooting through Scandinavia.' ... ) In Ms Drysdale's case, her chosen vehicle is a mobile home, complete with two toddlers blessed with names that would delight anyone fascinated by anagrams and other word-games, Tallulah and Xanthe. While the presence of these children helped the author ask a few important questions about the way humans acquire language, there were times when one felt trapped in a room with a particularly obsessive parent, babbling on about the wonders of their pre-school child.
Yet this is only a quibble. Overall, this is a fascinating and beautifully written book - one that would interest not only those who are bi- or even trilingual, but also anyone who is curious about the way our fellow-human beings interact and communicate with other on this continent that is our home.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read this book if you are curious about languages - and travel!, 7 Jan 2008
By 
Mark Baynes (London, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Mother Tongues: Travels through Tribal Europe (Paperback)
Yes I can agree with some of the other reviewers in that at times there is maybe a little too much about the children but at the same time this unusual mix of travelogue, linguistic detective story and travelling family life is made complete with the details of Xanthe and Tallulah. And without the portrait of partner and children I think the main subject matter might have been a little dry.

I have read a lot of travel books recently and I would rate this as one of the best. I particular enjoyed the chapter on the Basque Country and the chapter on Belgium is particularly pertinent at the time of writing. The idea that membership of the EU may encourage the revival of some languages.

If you are interested in European languages at any level then you really should read this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars compelling and essential for Europeans, 19 Mar 2002
Anyone wanting a deeper understanding of Europe - for whatever reasonns (travel, anthropological, language...) - NEEDS to read this book. And you will have no trouble learning the intricacies of the Basques, Sami, Catalonians etc. as the text bounds along and is bouyed up with amusing asides about family life squeezed into a campervan. Excellent entertainment combined with true insight and compelling information. READ IT and enjoy Europe
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into european history and society, 5 April 2013
This review is from: Mother Tongues: Travels through Tribal Europe (Paperback)
I really liked this book, the style of writing and for the most part the subject matter. I learnt so much about the structure and history of european states which has helped me understand current political arguments.
I find languages fascinating and like to read about real lives rather than the view presented in tourist brochures. This book really should be read by anyone trying to understand the importance of cultural indentity in shaping "nations" and the impact of the exisiting structure of european boundaries upon cultural minorities.
I would have given it 5 stars but, as others have said, the story of the author's family starts to intrude too much. As a mother I did at first sympathise with the difficulties of holding serious conversations in the presence of children BUT eventually became impatient with the feeling that more information could have been obtained if the author had left her children with her husband! I also started to feel that the author was deliberatley seeking out some of the worst places to camp and thus gave a biased view of many places (perhaps this is unfair - I do not know what alternatives were available but waste ground covered in dangerous litter cannot have been the only option?) I would still highly recommend the book.
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Mother Tongues: Travels through Tribal Europe
Mother Tongues: Travels through Tribal Europe by Helena Drysdale (Paperback - 11 Oct 2002)
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