Writing Exile

This month’s issue of Words without Borders, a monthly magazine publishing literature from around the world, focuses on the theme of exile.

Living abroad, working and thinking between languages and cultures, I am keenly interested in the ways in which encounters with the foreign shape our identities, transforming us into hybrid beings — caught somewhere between our roots and otherness. This experience, the startling disjunction between self and self-other, is perhaps most radical in cases of exile. Indeed, in the piece I’ve translated for this issue, Chadian author Koulsy Lamko compares exile to a nearly impossible act of grafting:

“Splicing oneself onto a strange root successfully is a miracle. Unless one possesses the properties of mistletoe and can grow on a tree whose roots are not one’s own. Slowly but surely, exile erases us from the memory of our land. And the day we try to go back to our country, to set foot there, by chance, for a sun, a moon, we realize that our land has abandoned us; it has turned its back on us, doesn’t recognize us anymore, has disowned us.”*

Reading the pieces in Writing Exile, I am reminded of a line in Maurice Blanchot asserting that a work worth translating is one that reflects a living language’s otherness with respect to itself (“Traduire”, L’Amitié). Here, it seems that subject and form are well matched, for in a magazine in which translation plays a central role, with writings by Venezuelan, Syrian, Iraqi, Chadian writers in exile, we are given a multiplicity of accounts and voices struggling with the shifting borders between self and other.

Click on the image to access the issue:

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*Citation from a translated excerpt of Les racines du Yucca, a story about an African author with a paper allergy who ends up organizing writing workshops in the Yucatán for exiles and survivors of war.

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