Dealing with Another Culture's Ghosts: Diaspora and Contact Zones in M. G. Vassanji's The Book of Secrets

David WF Mount


Stuart Hall, in 'Cultural Identity and Diaspora,' reminds us that the old, imperializing and hegemonizing definition of diaspora refers 'to those scattered tribes whose identity can only be secured in relation to some sacred homeland to which they must at all costs return, even if it means pushing other people into the sea' (244). Hall goes on to describe the diasporic experience as one that is marked by difference, transformation, and hybridity, and he challenges us to conceptualize diaspora in a manner that does not depend upon the centrality of the homeland. At the same time, we must not erase the distinctions between various forms of transnational mobility and displacement. While diasporic and immigrant experiences can be similar, they are not necessarily interchangeable; not all immigrants are members of diasporic communities, and not all members of diasporic communities are immigrants. What we must acknowledge when speaking about diasporas is the overarching presence of at least one outside force, such as imperial power, colonial authority, natural catastrophe or economic, social or political upheaval, to name just a few. M. G. Vassanji is one author whose fiction illustrates this difference through its multigenerational scope, which shows how the Shamsis' ethnic identity, while enduring in the diaspora, becomes transformed as it comes into contact with other ethnicities and cultures.

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