Revisioning a Homeland in Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family and Rohinton Mistry's Tales from Firozsha Baag

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Author: Rocío G. Davis
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2005
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,870 words

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[(essay date January 1996) In the following essay, Davis discusses Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family and Mistry's Tales from Firozsha Baag, examining immigrant authors' attempts to reconcile their pasts and their national identities through their writing.]

Salman Rushdie's 1982 essay, "Imaginary Homelands", may be read as a paradigm of the discourse of writers in the between-world condition. In this piece, he describes and defines the situation of those writers who are, in the words of Michael Ondaatje's English patient: "born in one place and choosing to live elsewhere. Fighting to get back to or get away from our homelands all our lives" (1992, 176). More specifically, Rushdie analyzes the theme of the homeland in the works of this breed of writer, pointing out that the attempt to portray one's land of origin is inevitably coupled with the failure to be faithful to any objective reality.

It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge--which gives rise to profound uncertainties--that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind.(1992, 10)

Taking as his point of departure the writing of Midnight's Children, Rushdie dwells on the complexity of fictionally recreating land he had left more that twenty years before into the saga of a child and of a nation. Recognizing that the distances of time and space distort facts, he revisioned his novel in order not to fall into the trap of having to validate his remembered experiences with objective realities, He centered his efforts on making the novel "as imaginatively true as I could" knowing that "what I was actually doing was a novel of memory and about memory, so that my India was just that: 'my' India, a version and no more than just one of all the hundreds of millions of possible versions" (1992, 10). Any writer who writes about his homeland from the outside, Rushdie claims, must necessarily "deal in broken mirrors, some of whose fragment have been irretrievably lost" (1992, 11). Nonetheless, it is precisely the fragmentary nature of these memories, the incomplete truths they contain, the partial explanations they offer, that make them particularly evocative for the "transplanted" writer. For Rushdie, these "shards of memory acquired greater status, greater resonance, because they were remains; fragmentation made trivial things seem like symbols, and the mundane acquired numinous qualities" (1992, 12).

The attempt to build a novel about one's homeland on the basis of memory has been shown to be both an irresistible challenge and a compelling necessity for may exiled or immigrant writers. There is a palpable obsession...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100061287