Novels by Karen Stephen...

My real adventure in Corsica in 1963

MOTHER TONGUE - Lingua Corsa
My real adventure in Corsica in 1963
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A machja, ochji un ha ma ochji teni. (Frassetu)

Le maquis ne possède pas d'yeux, mais il voit tout.

The maquis has no eyes, but it sees all.

 My own real-life adventure on the Isle of Corsica in 1963
Ma propre aventure de la vie réelle sur l'île de la Corse en 1963

The Widgeon of Fearn
The beginning of the adventure

The original idea for MOTHER TONGUE was sparked by a real-life adventure I took in 1963.  Along with a gang of other college students, I sailed around the northern Mediterranean on the Widgeon of Fearn.  We went from Cannes to Nice to Portofino.  Reaching Italy we went inland by train to Florence and Rome.  Then back to the boat and a stormy sail to Corsica where we were trapped in Bonifacio for 5 days.  Bored and out of sorts, we decided to try to sneak two Foreign Legionnaires off the island.  The plot was foiled but the memories remain.  I wanted to bring this high adventure to my novel.  You will see traces of this back story throughout the novel.

The crew aboard the Widgeon 1963 at Portofino
Our English skipper in the background

Here are a few of the crew.  Most were from UC Berkeley (as was I) or UCLA but we also had a Swede (who was our cook and translator) and an east Indian.  Robin Williams (not the comic but a lifeguard from Laguna Beach) was our leader.  He went on to lead travels all over the world.  He also has made marvelous travel films. Follow the links below to his websites.

Karen at 19 in Florence
Jerry Burns who filmed our adventure

Can't believe I was ever that skinny!  The entire adventure was filmed...but sadly, when the photographer was on his way home, going from Bonifacio to the airport in Ajaccio, his duffel bag with all nine canisters of 16 mm film fell off the top of a rickety old bus and was lost forever.  Only a few snapshots remain...but the memories are still clear. 

The white chalk cliffs of Bonifacio
The final scenes of Dagger take place here

MOTHER TONGUE follows the story of child advocate, Liz Fallon, who desperately needs a break after legal blunders lead to the kidnapping and death of one of her young charges. Resurrecting her childhood fluency in both French and her mother’s native Corsican tongue, she nabs a summer job at a radical Paris newspaper as a Corsu translator for Pierre Benatar, whose coverage of the explosive Corsican Nationalist movement has enraged almost every separatist faction.

When Benatar and his seven-year-old son disappear leaving only bullet-riddled walls and a trail of blood behind, Liz is determined to present a second tragedy and cons her way to Corsica under the ruse of researching the isle's ancient foretellers of death, the mazzeri.

She uses her secret knowledge of Corsu and the aid of an elderly British woman and her newfound Corsican cousin to cozy up to the prime suspects. The hunters become the hunted when her snooping arouses the suspicions of both the separatist leader and his arch enemy, the French anti-terrorist chief.
After the mazzeri story takes a chilling personal turn, Liz has to wonder whether Corsica intends to reclaim its prodigal daughter or destroy her.

Grafitti of opposing separtists groups
Photographed in 2006

The separatist movement in Corsica has involved a long and sometimes bloody struggle.  Just before my daughter and I visited Corsica in 2005 one of the separatist leaders had been assassinated at the Ajaccio airport by an opposing faction.  My research into the FLNC, the major faction, has given color to many of the characters in MOTHER TONGUE. Unfortunately, many of those men have since been assassinated. 

In 2012, France's top literary award, the Goncourt prize, went to Jerome Ferrari for "The Sermon on the Fall of Rome", a story of a young idealist whose dreams of finding a haven in Corsica are dashed by the island's notorious corruption and violence.