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:


*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.

On Bookstore Shelves Now: African Lives

African Lives: An Anthology of Memoirs and Autobiographies is now available online and in bookstores. This collection features pieces written by authors from across the African continent and spanning several centuries. As editor Geoff Wisner says in his introduction, the book can be read straight through or by skipping around:

The selections are arranged to follow the map of Africa as
you would read a page in a book: top to bottom and left to right, beginning
with North Africa and continuing through West Africa, Central
Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa. Within each region, the selections
are in alphabetical order by country. Within each country, they are
arranged chronologically, according to the date of the events described.

Layout 1

By a happy accident, African Lives begins in childhood, with Mohammed
Dib’s memories of growing up in Algeria. It ends in maturity and exile, on
a note of leave-taking, as Chenjerai Hove writes to his mother in Zimbabwe
from his new home in Norway. Between these two voices, I hope you will
find many more to challenge, inspire, and enlighten you.”

This is such a wonderful book, and together with my co-translator, Antoine Bargel, I am delighted to make three newly translated pieces available to the anglophone world: Yasmina Khadra’s The Writer (excerpt); Christian Dumoux’ Childhood in Madagascar (excerpt); Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Fraternal Bond (excerpt).

Sub-Saharan African Literature

Yale French Studies published an issue last fall (2011) on “Francophone Sub-Saharan African Literature in Global Contexts“, in which appear articles by scholars and writers from diverse backgrounds on various mutations and transformations in Francophone sub-Saharan literature, particularly with respect to globalization.  Among others, see the piece I translated by Cilas Kemedjio titled “The Suspect Nation:  Globalization and the Postcolonial Imaginary”, in which the author “addresses the tenuous links between nation-building and diasporic formations, nationalism and transnationalism, and therefore globalization itself” (Editors’ Preface, 7).

Collaboration for Words without Borders

I’ve recently had the pleasure of collaborating with French writer and translator Antoine Bargel on a selection of poetry and prose for the May 2012 edition of Words without Borders on “Writing from the Indian Ocean”.  Our contributions include works by the writers Michel Ducasse, Alain Gordon-Gentil, Boris Gamaleya, and Jean-Luc Raharimanana, all of whom, as scholar Françoise Lionnet describes, “imaginatively [engage] with the public and private realms of life in […] historical and strategic insular sites of migration that have brought together the peoples of many continents, near and far” (“Insularity, Mobility, and Imagination:  Writing from the Indian Ocean”).  In these pieces, the raw iteration of the abject, the probing struggle with memory, and the stark critique of global injustice, made for a challenging task of translation and a stimulating read.  I hope you enjoy this issue of Words without Borders as much as I have:  http://wordswithoutborders.org/issue/may-2012