Diaspora Literature: Away from Home

At Daastan, we understand the importance of being seen in a story. While white literature may be great- it is perhaps not the most representative for us. Here is where the problem comes: What else is there for us? Of course we still have our great South Asian literature. However, sometimes it seems familiar in a way things of the past are. The answer to our problems is diaspora literature.

This may be because our identities are now fluid and dynamictranscultural, with class and gender being very important. Indeed, diaspora literature encompasses all of these identity issues in a manner that helps the reader confront their own experiences as well. We have compiled a list of diaspora literature that pays specific attention to the gendered experience of exile and nationality. From graphic novels to short stories- there is something for everyone!

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

First off, we have the wonderful four part graphic novel “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. It is an autobiographical graphic novel that charts Marjane’s journey from childhood to adulthood amidst the political turmoil of Iran.

The first thing that stands out about Persepolis is its form as a graphic novel. Through the form, there is the contrast of the written with the visual. Further, it also adds more meaning to the conflict between religiosity and modernism in Iran. Additionally, it also acts as a comment on the position the author (and the character) occupy as a transnational citizen and how they negotiate spaces of nationalism.

“I wanted to be justice, love and the wrath of God all in one.”

Zubaida’s Window by Iqbal Al-Qazwini

Zubaida’s Window” follows an Iraqi exile living in Berlin with a focus on her crumbling psyche as a collateral of the war. Here we are shown the experience of alienation not just on a geographic level but also on an emotional level. This is because she is unable to find her place in the present; in Berlin. She continues to live in the past through her fragmented memories of the war, facilitated by the live media coverage of the recent war.

Coupled with the commentary on experiences of war as diaspora literature, “Zubaida’s Window” also is a great piece to read in regards to the terrifying growth of mass communication.

“That place once represented for her an uneasy dream, vacil­ lating between wakefulness and sleep, between audacity and fear, between the possible and the impossible. That is the place she has been longing for.”

Aisha by Ahdaf Soueif

For those who do not want to go through full length novels, “Aisha” is another example of diaspora literature in the form of short stories. With a lot of emphasis on symbolism, each short story follows Aisha through childhood to adulthood. However, instead of being in a chronological order it is episodic.

Not only does it wonderfully explain the diaspora experience, Soueif also creates a bridge between the East and the West. She refuses to put either of those on a pedestal. Instead, she lays the importance on awareness and individual choice in constructing our identity.

“She looked at the mirror with recognition, relief and sorrow. She lowered herself gently off the bed, straightened it, and left the room.”

We hope you pick up at least one of these brilliant works of diaspora literature. So much more could have been said about all three, but we do want to leave you with some room for curiosity!

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