Canada: Migration and Exile

Reviewed by Suzanne Marshall

These two excellent volumes, both published in 2009 by Universitätsverlag C. Winter, contribute to the growing body of transnational approaches to Canadian literature, emphasizing the construction of fluid identities across ethnicities, cultures, communities of interest, and national borders. As such, they expand Canadian literary studies both in content and in concept, advocating a critical approach that emphatically links and contextualizes Canadian works, both historical and contemporary, within global networks.

Migration and Fiction comes out of the conference of the Centre for Canadian Studies at the University of Graz, Austria in 2008; it gathers a diversity of perspectives from international scholars on representations of migration in Canadian literature. Throughout, these scholars note the transition in migration studies from an often dualistic understanding of migration, exile, and cultural contact—here and there, origin and present—to the current emphasis on process and transformation, the Third Space that Homi Bhabha identifies.

Accordingly, these papers focus on the constantly shifting ground of the contact zone of movement and transculturation. They explore the consequences of migration for the construction of identities, and of strategies of literary representation. Much attention is paid throughout the volume to the relationship between migration’s production of multiple subjectivities and migration literature’s tendency to multiple narratives and a conscious exploration of the use and truths of fiction. Further, the collection considers the ways in which the insights of migration studies are increasingly applicable to studies of modern culture in general, with its emphasis on instability and relativity in its conceptions of individual and communal identities. Examples include Martin Löschnigg’s examination of Munro’s use of migration as a metaphor for individual movement through the stages of life, and Armin Wiebe’s discussion of migration as a key to his novels’ subjects and styles.

Maria Löschnigg, focusing on form and genre, considers the suitability of the short story cycle for migration narratives. Smaro Kamboureli’s opening paper also reflects on form, bending the boundaries of genre to include space within criticism for the affective and subjective realms, while her work meditates on our understandings of diaspora. The papers of Konrad Gross and Elisabeth Damböck trace shifts in terminology and paradigms as migrant literature moves toward the transcultural and transmigrant. Klaus Martens examines the variations in Frederick Philip Grove’s representations of migration—fictional, autofictional, and allegorical.

Some papers investigate the roles of specific cultural objects, ideas, and metaphors: Carla Comellini looks at the idea of the garden, food, and other significant markers of belonging, while Jason Blake examines the tension in hockey literature between narratives of inclusivity and the sport’s white, male image. Tanja Cvetkovic considers representations of place and home within Rohinton Mistry’s migration narratives, while Birgit Neumann explores spatial imagery. The essays point, too, to the need to further complicate categories: Anna Pia de Luca, Yvonne Völkl, and Michelle Gadpaille consider the intersection of transcultural experiences and gender; Gadpaille and Natalia Vid also explore the role of language as a cultural and class marker. Völkl’s work, further, explores francophone Jewish Canadian writing against a largely Anglophone tradition.

Eugen Banauch’s Fluid Exile: Jewish Exile Writers in Canada 1940-2006, adapted from Banauch’s dissertation research at the University of Vienna, focuses upon the works of Jewish-Canadian writers Henry Kreisel, Carl Weiselberger, Charles Ulrich Wassermann, and Eric Koch, all of whom fled Nazi Germany, arrived in Canada as enemy aliens in the 1940s, and subsequently made their lives in the country. Banauch’s approach is interdisciplinary: he reads his subjects through the lens of German exile literature, stressing, as his title indicates, exile as a fluid concept, differentiating it from earlier approaches that focus upon the influence of points of origin. Banauch’s subjects have been marginalized within the study of German exile literature—he is the first to examine the Canadian exile—and this is at least in part because they do not conform to expectations: they are written (mostly) in English; many are written long after 1945; and their authors left Europe in their youth, falling between the usual categories of first- and second-generation writers. Banauch emphasizes the ways in which his subjects’ works are characterized by complex and divergent trans/cultural strategies that constantly re/construct cultural spaces, roles and positions, preventing their essentialization within any category.

At the same time, Banauch examines the works of Kreisel, Weiselberger, Wassermann, and Koch within their Canadian context: here, they too have been given little attention in the fields of Canadian literature and Jewish Canadian literature (with the exception of Kreisel). Though seldom studied in Canada, they are significant in that they precede the surge in literary investigations of transculturation that has flourished since the late twentieth century. Banauch also traces the changes in Canadian society and culture throughout the course of six decades that influence the changing foci of his subjects’ literary production.

Fluid Exile begins by sketching the history of the internment of Jewish refugees in the UK and in Canada, and Canadian social norms at the time of their arrival. It then provides biographies of Kreisel, Weiselberger, Wassermann, and Koch. Banauch situates his approach in the exile studies of Germany and Canada, and in Holocaust literature. The studies of individual works are approached through four principal categories: Writing the Holocaust, Writing Exile, Jewish Worlds, and Inter- and Transcultural Writing. The thematic approach works very well here, as we see the coherence of these subjects as a group and yet their diversity and complexity as cultural subjects and producers.

This review “Canada: Migration and Exile” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 214 (Autumn 2012): 129-30.

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