Reviewed by Arwa Hussein Aldoory
Writing Displacement: Home And identity in Contemporary Post-Colonial Fiction* is a book of criticism which provides a reading about the concept of displacement within the context of literary theory and postmodernist British fiction. It significantly expands the concept of ‘displacement’ by providing a universal understanding of its nature, relying on the author’s Palestinian experience of exilic dispersions. It also shows how the experience of displacement plays a vital role in the articulation of the postcolonial identity which, in Al Deek’s words, “survives the nostalgic, magnetic pulling of the past and the seductive, mimetic pushing of the present.”(7) The cover of the book, which is designed by Paileen Currie, shows a key carried in a human hand probably suggesting the idea of locking the past and opening the present.
Dr. Akram Al Deek, the author of the book is Head of English Department and an assistant Professor of English Literature at the American University of Madaba, Jordan. He is a Palestinian writer and lecturer in post-colonial studies, World literatures as well as cultural and literary theory. He was born in Jordan, got a German nationality and spent his entire twenties working and studying in England. Dr. Al-Deek is currently working on his semi-autobiographical memoir, The Eucalyptus Tree: Episodes of Dispersals.
Al- Deek revisits the concept of displacement through referring to different characters who lived the experience of diaspora across a span of time from 1956 to 2003. He argues that this time frame covers a large variety of two displaced generations who were born and bred in England to one English parent or non-English parents. Al Deek selects writers whose works represent various preoccupations with the politics of home and identity. They are either students, or were brought along with their families at an early stage of their lives, or they were born and bred in England. The book is composed of four chapters.
In chapter one, the author explores the meaning of displacement on the light of the Palestinian experience of ‘nuzooh’ and the “ongoing struggle for self-determination under Israeli colonialism.”(23) Referring to mourid Barghouti’s novel I Saw Ramallah, which was translated from its Arabic origin by Ahdaf Soueif and published in Britain in 2004) the author defines displacement as a “multiple complex of rerouting and rerooting” since it rejects “the myth of return” or “a schizophrenic paranoia that grants its beholder a double insight.”(26-7) He also identifies the different consequences of displacement which begins geographical but ends psychological, cultural and even linguistic. Al Deek, in this chapter, draws a comparison between jewish diaspora, which is preoccupied with the hope to return back to the so-called promised land, and diaspora of postcolonial groups, including Palestinian as a case in point, which is marked by no desire of returning back as well as the ability to integrate with the host society and recreate a new identity and “a culture in diverse locations.”(49)
Al Deek, in chapter two, fabulously provides a shining image of displacement which is not altogether gloomy and full of distress for it opens the door for creativity, gives flexibility to identity and goes beyond cultural, religious and racial barriers. He also refers to the significant role of the displaced writers as Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi and Zadie Smith whose narratives offered a rereading of history as well as literary and cultural guidance for succeeding generations.
In chapter three, the author refers to selected literary postcolonial works to make a comparison between the Caribbean, Indian, Chinese and Palestinian experiences of displacement, arguing that Palestinian displacement is not an experience that can be simply recollected in books since it is “a collective narrative of individual narratives and of different generations of diverse losses.”(182) He also distinguishes between two generations of immigrant writers: the “Windrush Generation” between 1956 and 1967, as Naipaul and Sam Selvon whose works reflect their preoccupation with misery and agonising nostalgia, and the “Masala Fish” generation (1967-2003) who represented home and identity differently; though their works all were mostly stimulated by the experience of displacement. Writers of the second generation, Al Deek argues, have more flexibility in mind and openness to the other cultures. They used food as an example of hybridity and cultural integration. He examines the multicultural face of London especially after the events of September 11 in works as White Teeth by Zadie Smith, My Beautiful Laundrette and The black Album by kureishi.
Al Deek concludes his book suggesting that multiculturalism is the best way to describe the racial and cultural diversity of post September/ 11 London. Multiculturalism remapped the canon of British literature when immigrant writers of British nationality began to produce works in English representing their experiences of identity and displacement.
Writing Displacement is a book that reshapes the ideas of cultural membership and identity. It is a call not to view displacement only as a spiritual imprisonment to the dispersed, but also as a chance for liberty to see matters from different perspectives which go beyond mental and cultural ghettoisation .
- * Palgrave Macmillan, First published 2016, US, ISBN 978-1-137-58091-7, 204 pages