‘ How Long Can They Stay?’ – An installation by artist Nefeli Asariotaki
Dreams and nightmares take turns in every sleep cycle. They even invade the hours awake. Trudging along a razor’s edge, the refugee listens to each wave lapping against the boat, wraps her grip against fast fading memories of a room that once had her, wading thick walls of mist, the refugee journeys towards and away from an imaginary homeland. There shall no longer be a day without learning the shape of separation, without looking at broken pieces of heart, without longing for acceptance from foreign soils, skins and songs. Refugee literature delves deep into migrant memories, bereavement and memories of banishment that a migrant carries through her life, even for generations. The Antonym, sought out literary expressions—tales and artefacts built in that sleeplessness and plight.
The modern nationhood draws borders in specific ways. Religious persecution and political banishment are one of the evident causes of exile. Given the fact that home and homelessness are deeply rooted in cultural, social, technological and economic conditions of the society, for the coming eight weeks, we investigate how the communities of compelled migrants cope with the “condition of terminal loss”, negotiate their identity amidst class conflict, politics of the host country and strategies employed, if any, to achieve recognition and legitimacy. Refugee writers and artists have always been special witnesses to the shifting grounds of political, social and religious existence.
How has the accelerated movement of people, ideas, goods, and cultural practices affected literary authors of different racial, class, gender, religious, and national origins? What is the meaning of belonging, home and homeland? How do authors relate to their firsthand experiences or seen through generational loss of belonging? What happens to the physical body, affect, love and intimacy, the family, and intergenerational relations in migration? What are the narrative and lyric patterns and tropes of writing between worlds?
There are more questions than we can answer within the confines of a few issues of an online magazine. The scope of refugee literature is vast, our space and reach are limited.
Here is the line-up for July and August front and center topic Dreams and Nightmares – on a razor’s edge, our take on refugee literature of the present and from the past:
Below are our week by week published content for the Front and Center topic :Dreams and Nightmares – One a Rajor’s Edge
3rd July, 2021
Dagmawi Yimer, born and grew up in Addis Ababa and now a film maker in Italy, has given a personal account of the African migrants’ journey through desert and sea, and what they endured to reach the other side of the shore. This is what he says –
If I am here to speak to you today about those who didn’t make it, those whose lives ended in the sea, it is only because I am lucky enough to be still alive. There is no glory in having reached this side of the sea-shore. The day I arrived in Lampedusa, I was marked as “the one who survived”: my duty is to recall my friends who drowned.
The Antonym features seven poems in translation which are from the first sequence in Erri de Luca’s second book of poetry, Solo Andata, Righe che vanno troppo spesso a capo (One Way, Lines that break all too often), Feltrinelli, 2014 (2005). Neapolitan by birth, Erri de Luca is one of the most renowned writers in Italy today.De Luca is convinced that a writer, as a public figure, has a duty to speak for those who cannot and find words for the inarticulate. He speaks through the senses and from the underbelly of the human condition, aspiring to go to the very core of words, and to the entrails of social, political, and spiritual integrity. The poems are translated from the Italian by Patrick Williamson.
The story revolving around a refugee camp in Greece is quite interesting because it involved a certain familiarity with a mix of transnational super-hero pop culture, some forays into magical realism while being careful not to depart from the nine-year-old’s perspective. The author structured the story in a way that revealed the boy’s placement within the family constellation, his fierce eye directed to the daily cruelty of his microcosm both in the family and the refugee camp, which all belie the larger geopolitical power plays that set the family off to their journey which, though, are never mentioned as they are beyond the conscious grasp of a nine-year-old boy. The story is translated from the Italian by Pina Piccolo.
10th July, 2021
Within the constrictions of a short story, ‘No Man’s Land’ critically explores the artificiality of national boundaries and the human consequences of abiding by such inanity. As I translated the narrative, I repeatedly confronted a question: Who is insane here – the woman or the institutions that are determined to manage her life? The author subtly points to the bestiality of policies and procedures that render human lives disposable. ‘No Man’s Land’ reminded me of another powerful short story, ‘Toba Tek Singh’ by Saadat Hasan Manto, that deals with the madness of displacement and opposing governments’ inhumane attempts to control human destiny.
Steve Gerson, an emeritus English professor from a Midwestern community college, writes poetry and flash about life’s dissonance and dynamism. The poems deal with immigrant and refugee experience in a distant land.
Through my work, I seek to isolate and highlight the absurdity of this world, with the aim to accept its existence and create space for new connections. My work is concerned with the limits of humanity and cruelty. It hopes to inspire a dialogue about war, conflict, and the existence of borders in a time that violence and dogmatism are placed in the foreground.
Two excellent book on refugee literature, first hand accounts both, are reviewed by Somejeet Dey together to bring home the point of helplessness and the long urduous journey of a refugee in search of hope.