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Reflections on Exile, Identity, Language, and Loss

edited by Andre Aciman

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56584-504-8
Publisher: New Press

In these distinct and forthcoming original essays, five prominent writers offer their meditations on exile and memory. The authors represented in Aciman’s (Out of Egypt: A Memoir, 1995) collection are a varied lot—a not atypical sampling of men and women who have found their way to the US from around the world: Aciman, an Alexandrian in exile via Paris; Eva Hoffman, a Pole in exile via Canada; Bharati Mukherjee, a Bengali in Berkeley; Edward Said, a Palestinian exile via Egypt; and Charles Simic, a Yugoslav exile of 1945 vintage. These voices of exile are unusually eloquent ones. All five authors are non-native speakers who write professionally in English. For them, the common duality and instability of exile are heightened by the very nature of their work. Aciman puts it well: “their words . . . are the priceless buoys with which they try to stay afloat both as professional thinkers and human beings.” The five essays differ in tone and style. The collection begins with Aciman’s lyrical and imaginative essay on a park in New York that reminds him of the places of his past, or his “shadow cities,” and reaches its gravest moments in the heavy seriousness of Said’s reflections on his professional and personal journey in America, with frequent references to Adorno. Hoffman examines the contradictions inherent in nomadism and diasporism, referring to her own life and those of other East European literary figures such as Nabokov, Kundera, Milosz, and Brodsky. Mukherjee, coming from a different perspective, writes about the process of immigration in the US as “the stage, and the battleground, for the most exciting dramas of our time.” Aciman made the right choice in closing with Simic’s poem “Cameo Appearance” and his droll essay on his youthful exile and on the speed with which exile teaches the arbitrary nature of an individual’s existence. A thoughtful and diverse collection with a distinctly literary bent.