Book Review: The Penguin Book of Migration Literature

The Penguin Book of Migration Literature, edited by Dohra Ahmad

It is fortunate that this book ends up being better than its foreword.  Edwige Danticat, one of the authors whose work is included here, views the subject of migration literature from the tedious and tiresome and quite frankly not very worthwhile perspective of intersectionalism, and this casts a pall over the work at its start.  That is not to say that every piece of literature here is necessarily good.  A lot of it is not particularly notable and simply is included here because someone wished to anthologize it somehow so that someone who might appreciate it might come across it.  Being a bit more critical about the point of view of those who fancy themselves victims of history than most be, a lot of this book struck me as containing the point of view of people who were whining about the way that life was tough for migrants, and that they were vulnerable to being taken advantage of, which is certainly the truth.  There is the usual attempt here on the part of some to dodge responsibility for their migration and its repercussions.  There is much to appreciate here, though, even for one who does not agree with the perspective of it entirely.

This book is about 250 pages or so and it is divided into four sections.  It begins with its worst part, a foreword and an introduction that attempt to frame this work into a leftist intersectionalist perspective.  After that, at least we get occasionally interesting texts.  The first part of the book looks at departures, be they Japanese mail order brides, slaves, people migrating from rural poverty to the city, or even people going to other planets.  After that there is an exportation of arrivals, including how difficult it is to blend in in home countries and find good professional work, on the perspective people have upon arriving and seeking some measure of acculturation, and the reasons why people may not want to go back to the places they knew before even if their arrival is not all they would have hoped.  The author explores the relationship between generations, including the efforts of parents who are poor of to encourage their children to do better, the struggle over Muslim fundamentalism in the West and how it divides families, and finally there is a brief discussion of returns as well as information about the author, suggestions for further reading and viewing, and acknowledgements.

Are there any aspects of migrant culture that shine through here?  To be sure, this book presents a wide variety of perspectives of those who have migrated from one place to another.  Some of them focus on the experience of the migrant, seeking a good life and dealing with the various shady people who help illegal immigrants move from one place to another as well as the dangers and risks, including death, that can result from the attempt to migrate to another country.  Still other perspectives focus on the experience of those in new places seeking to determine who they are, and wrestle with the choices of identity that others make.  Still others focus on those left behind, for whom the absence of the exile is akin to death.  Whatever elements are focused on, though, there are broad similarities here, as migrants face a lot of struggles in terms of being able to get along in an area, are vulnerable to harsh treatment by the places that they migrate to, and there is often a difficulty that they face in being able to find a secure life and home wherever they may wander.  And the book inspired me to want to read a few other volumes, which is always a good sign.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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