The Mirage of Europe in Caryl Phillips's A Distant Shore (2003) and Chika Unigwe's On Black Sisters’ Street (2007/2009)

Onderzoeksoutput: Unpublished abstract


In A Distant Shore (2003) and On Black Sisters' Street (2009; Dutch transl. Fata Morgana 2007) respectively, Caryl Phillips and Chika Unigwe explore the concrete predicament of 'refugees' in Europe. Although migration is a central theme in postcolonial studies, criticism has been levelled at the romanticisation of the nomadic traveller, the exoticisation of the postcolonial situation, and an all too culturalist focus on the inbetweenness of migrants, as such approaches tend to ignore the economic and political circumstances of those who have left their homes for the mirage of Europe (see also Huggan (1998), Kaplan (1996), Youngs (2004)). In contrast, Phillips and Unigwe both allow their 'refugees' to relate in detail - at least to the reader - the sorrows of their African pasts and of their made-up lives in England and Flanders. Although the novels bear thematic similarities and share such postmodern literary strategies as non-chronological narration and the use of multiple narrative perspectives, my comparison aims to show how Unigwe's novel complements and elaborates on Phillips's masculine and universalised account of an African asylum seeker in some northern English town. Unigwe, who chooses to set her novel in the more unusual and concrete location of the red light district of Belgium's largest port city, does not just meet with Phillips's request for a novel about Antwerp's black street workers (in The Guardian of 15 May 2004). She also presents a gendered reflection on A Distant Shore by recounting the distinct and individualised life stories of four African prostitutes who end up sharing a house in Antwerp. Although Unigwe's four women, like Phillips's own protagonist, pass through a network of human traffickers, Unigwe is less interested in the hardship of their journeys and their lives in Europe. Instead, she explores the gender predicament that has prompted the Africa women to leave their homes and comes to highlight the (possibilities of) new connections the women are able to detect in Antwerp's seediest district, so that by the end of the novel the women's street rather unexpectedly lives up to its (English) name.
Originele taal-2English
StatusPublished - 2011
Evenement‘Under Construction: Gateways and Walls’ – EACLALS Triennial Conference 2011 - Bogazici University 26-30 april 2011, Istanbul, Turkey
Duur: 26 apr 201130 apr 2016


Conference‘Under Construction: Gateways and Walls’ – EACLALS Triennial Conference 2011


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