Tuesday, August 30, 2011

shores, migration, modern times + a better world I

Last week, the language/place carnival went live. The feature theme: Assimilation/Individuation. One of the first pieces I read of it was "London Migration" by Sandra Davies - a personal and powerful dual take on the theme, with the series of migration painting and the combined reflections:
"London migration combines country ‘portraits’ for each of the sixteen ancestors known to have migrated into London, with maps and place names of where they originated. The decision to move from one’s birthplace might be prompted by dreams of success or by harsh economic necessity."
London migration also connects to the book i am reading these days, "When I Lived in Modern Times" by Linda Grant - a story of immigration and trying to built a better world (published by Granta Books, who belong to Granta Magazine). The book is partly set in the London of 1936 / 1945, and shows the London of the refugees. One of the refugees is Evelyn. Her mother fled from Lativa to London, to escape the turmoils of the Russian revolution and the growing discrimination of Jews there. In London, they fit in, in a refugee way:

"Maybe in some other place my mother and I would have been forced to dissolve our identities. But in Soho, it didn't matter. No-one asked questions. Within those few streets off Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road it was acceptable to be different, it was normal. We were all ethnics, from somewhere else. Everyone had their own churches and social clubs. ... Meanwhile, I was looking around to figure out who exactly I was. In the end, all I had to know myself by was a fragment of something and I was trying to find out what was the main whole it had broken off from.
It turned out that the fragment was part of a story, I was part of a grand narrative that had started before I was ever born. Who was I?"
This is told in flashback - the book itself sets in some years later, in 1946. Evelyn is twenty by then, and on her own. At one point, she walks through the London - from Piccadilly Circus past Lilywhites, into Trafalgar Square, through St. James Park, past Buckingham Palace, and back to the East End. Her walk through London brought me back there, to this city of so many faces. This city that saw me walking through it a couple of times, too, from its royal palaces to its brick roads.

(British Museum Gates / London Bus)

(Brick Lane, London East End)

Here's the blog post from my own trip there: London: around the world in a day

Back to the London of 1946: Carried by the spirit of the time, Evelyn decides to depart from London, and to head to Palestine, to join those who are builiding a new state – a better world: Israel. It's a story of the past, of course, but many lines in this book speak to our own modern times. Like this one, about the difficult political situation in the middle east, and the hope for peace, and the measures to fight for the own freedom:

It made me think of Israel today, of course, how peace is still a dream there. And of course, of the countries in the middle east that are in the state of recreation. It also made me think of the counterpoint view, that there is no other way to peace that peace. But then, looking at the arms and troops that circulate in each country, it seems a very idealistic hope to overcome a totalitarian regime by remaining peaceful.
“You are a terrorist,” she said.” - “I am not a terrorist, I am a freedom fighter.”
And some pages later:
"The terror won’t last for long, and then we’ll have a country and there will be peace.”

Reading those chapters also brought me back to the collection of immigration stories that I read last year: "Common Boundary". It struck a chord in the foreword by Jason Dubow already: 
"These stories of immigration are about people who mentally and emotionally live between places, languages and cultures. And, really, aren't we all a jumble of perspectives? .. And so, when you're done reading, ask youself: Who now am I?"
The huge theme of identity, again. Who was I? Who now am I? - It gets echoed directly in one of the language/place contributions, Cathrine Lodoens poem (Linguistically me): "It’s been 24 years. Maybe it’s time to stop feeling like a foreigner"..

and it is the centre point of the Boundary story "Beginning in the Midwest" by Rewa Zeinati, who moved back to the Middle East after living in the US for several years:
"I am a citizen with two identities, and many more to embrace. Must we be one or the other? We are nothing if not an anthology of our experiences and the places we've lived and traveled."
there is a second post on the book, which includes a letter from a friend who lives in Tel Aviv, about the current protests there: shores, migration, modern times + a better world II

and 2 additional links:
- The original book post about Common Boundary - Stories of Immigration
- And a link to an insightful recent interview with Rewa Zenati on the theme of migration, with questions like this: "Can you tell us about Beirut? What do you most enjoy about your home city, and how does it differ from the US cities you lived in?" - The Atrium / An interview with Rewa Zenati


E♦B said...

Dear Dorothee:

Thank you for the posting about migration/immigration.

You and your readers might be interested in an interview of Rewa Zenati (since you mention her). The interview appears in the Spring issue of The Atrium and was conducted by the journal's editor, Nancy Riecken.

Assuming the link works, here it is: http://nwi.ivytech.edu/atrium/The_Atrium/Current_Issue.html

~Gregory F. Tague

Brigita said...

Thanks for sending me the link to this post. This sounds like a book I'd want to read so I'm adding it to my to-read list. I recently read Forbidden bread by Erica Johnson Debeljak, a New Yorker who moved to Slovenia right after the wars in ex-Yugoslavia began. This was another fascinating read as I could glimpse the process of individuation/assimilation from the point of view of the majority that Erica tried to assimilate to.

Dorothee Lang said...

Gregory, thanks for sending the link. that's such an interesting interview - i now included the link directly in the blog post.

And "Forbidden Bread" - i just looked for it, and added it to my future reads. looks like my journey of migration reads will continue :)

Sandra Davies said...

Dorothee - thank you for the reference and the nice things you say about my 'London migration' piece. I still have too many books to read to take on more at the moment but have made a note of the Linda Grant one, especially as the father of one of these London migrants was Peter Heinrich von Sassen, a merchant's clerk living in Dover, which strongly suggests that he was an immigrant (and 'von' an addition)

Rewa said...

Dorothee, thank you for posting about my piece "Beginning in the Midwest"! Rewa Zeinati