The Transnational Imaginaries of M G Vassanji, Diaspora, Literature, and Culture

Volume 16, Issue 3  | 
Published 03/03/2020

Authors: Karim Murji and Asma Sayed

Publ: Peter Lang Publishing,  Inc.

Reviewer: Farah Qureshi

This book calls for a rebranding of Vassanji’s work by studying the author through a transnational context. The editors Karim Murji and Asma Sayed explain that we must read the author as both emerging from and representative of cross-border and cross-cultural movement. To do this, they explore the nature of ‘transnationalism.’ 

Prominent Vassanji scholars join Murji and Sayed to explore the representations of transnationalism in Vassanji's multifaceted characters or personal accounts. The articles situate Vassanji not only within postcolonial, diasporic, and migration conversations, but a hybrid intercessory space connecting them. 

Murji and Sayed orient the book through two simultaneous thematic directions. The first is a movement through Vassanji’s types of writings: from memoirs in the first part through to fictions in the second. The second is a geographical arrangement, moving from South Asia to East Africa, and finally North America, similar to Vassanji's own movements. This double arrangement of the book is not as jarring as it sounds. Overlapping themes questioning identity, belonging, and movement ensures smooth transitions between chapters. 

Chapters criticise phrases often utilised in building a sense of ‘otherness’ or exclusion. Authors note how discussions of segmentation, globalisation, and visitor identities (Ball, Munos, Alexander, Hart) are often reinforced through accepted concepts of intimacy (Desai), violence (Barasa), spirituality (Kanwar), gender (Pandurang), and social networks (Rollins). These perceptions only reinforce a dismissal of transnational culture. The authors instead encourage a fluid understanding of identity and memory in both historical and geographical trails (cf. Rosenberg, Ozawa, Siundu). While many of the articles question concepts of ‘national’ belonging, the points of enquiry are not general. Many chapters also approach detailed analysis of specific sections of Vassanji’s work. 

I must note that I am a reviewer who has not explored all books from Vassanji’s oeuvre. I may have missed particular nuances and details discussed by the authors. The reason I mention this is to clarify that despite this limitation, I was not isolated from understanding the discussions. Instead, I finished motivated to read more, enriched with perspectives provided in this book. 

This book is not only for Vassanji’s fans. The essays explore topical and contentious debates relevant in contemporary political discussion. Authors show how themes in Vassanji’s work are still contentious in modern society. With many governments across the world aggressively defining ‘national’ belonging, this book instead debates if a national identity even exists in translocal worlds. Is there even a true concept of nationally belonging? Vassanji’s personal and fictional experiences help question the binary of native and foreign. Methodologically, studying individual local perspectives can inform understandings of the social. 

Vassanji's works explain a dislocation from the colonial process, relocation, and international travel. A Vassanjian reflection on the realities of belonging and identity in historical and political contexts can broaden social science scholarship by understanding that translocal nationals can identify through an international flexible citizenship.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 March 2020 10:09

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