Finding Identity Between Assimilation and Resistance. Voices of “Ungrateful” Migrant Authors in Swiss Literature

Friday, July 14, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Min Zhou , Feinstein College of Arts & Sciences, Roger Williams University
In my presentation, I will proceed from the following questions: What does it mean to live in between two cultures? How much do migrants have to give up of their old identity in order to become part of the other culture? Is it possible to both adapt to and resist the culture of their host country? Aesthetically, how can literature give migrants an authentic voice? I will explore these questions by examining Melinda Nadj Abonji’s 2010 novel Tauben fliegen auf and Irena Brezna’s 2012 novel Die undankbare Fremde. The epic about the struggles of a migrant family from Serbia in Tauben fliegen auf and snippets in die undankbare Fremde of the lives of the narrator and individual migrants from various backgrounds she meets as an interpreter complement each other to portray a holistic picture of migration in Switzerland: on the one hand, migrants are criticized for passive assimilation and challenged to see their differentness not as shortages, but as assets; on the other hand, Swiss natives are advised to appreciate newcomers for their invigoration and enrichment of the Swiss society – (in)gratitude is indeed both ways. The two novels raise serious questions about the complex processes of transcultural communication between natives and migrants and the different perspectives of normalization and ordering of new communities and subjectivities in order to overcoming divisions and boundaries.