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Reviewed by:
Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock, eds. Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1992. 312 pp. $15.95 paper.

Since the historical rupture of decolonization and with the emergence of national consciousness in the so-called "Third World," postcolonial writers have developed an anamnesiac literary tradition that writes back to the center what was repressed by European colonialism's amnesia. These writers' oppositional literary practices have destabilized the hegemony of European literary canons by introducing new modes of narration that convey the experiences of different cultures and traditions. For readers interested in this body of literary and cultural expressions, Feroza Jussawalla's and Reed Way Dasenbrock's Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World provides useful "archival material." The editors interview a wide range of writers from Africa, Asia, New Zealand, and the United States, situating the common features of their writings, while emphasizing the plurality of subject and cultural positions offered by them.

This collection of interviews is particularly valuable to those readers interested in the issue of language and its ideological implications, as various writers discuss their relations to English as the dominant language of the postcolonial era. While some postcolonial authors agree with Ngugi wa Thiongo that writing in one's own language is central to the decolonization [End Page 409] of the mind, others take side with Chinua Achebe that contemporary writers "need dispose of the language question, [and] the banning of certain languages" and work towards the "development of [the] multiplicity of languages." Still others, like the Chicana writer Sandra Cisneros, take the question of language a step further and argue for the transformation of English in ways that can express the experiences of non-Western and "minority" cultures.

Regrettably, however, the editors' excessive preoccupation with language displaces the broaching of more pressing issues of the "postcolonial world," issues such as the politics of "race," predicaments of displacement and marginality, nationalism, exile, and immigration. Although the interviewers sometimes raise the question of multiculturalism, their emphasis on the linguistic aspect of literary production and their privileging of the thematic often entangle them in tedious discussions of the plot and character analysis. Their interview with Buchi Emecheta, for example, hardly addresses her position as an immigrant writer in a Western metropolis, nor does it deal with the ways in which race relations in Britain figure in her writing. Similarly, the interview with Nuruddin Farah keeps the discussion of such crucial issues as exile and displacement at an anecdotal level, avoiding the predicament of nationalism and its exclusionary effects, effects that have made a writer like him suffer the most acute sense of dislocation.

Finally, one can also take issue with the selection of writers meant to "represent" postcolonial consciousness. The collection, for example, perplexingly excludes African-American, Native American, and Asian-American writers, but includes three Chicana/o authors. These choices raise the more fundamental problem of what the editors understand to constitute postcolonial writing. As many critics have recently argued, a catchall notion of "postcolonialism" collapses different chronologies of decolonization, and fails to account for the historical specificities of diverse locations. Such distortions are evident in the selections of writers in Jussawalla's and Dasenbrock's Interviews. The identification of Chicana/o writers as postcolonial subjects, for example, conflates the cultural, historical, and political differences between "Third-World" and U.S. "minority" practices. Moreover, the collection includes such South-East Asian writers as Zulfikar Ghose and Raja Rao who do not particularly identify with the politics and poetics of postcoloniality. In short, by indiscriminately, not to say tokenistically, grouping writers of "color," this collection works, ironically, against postcolonial oppositional consciousness, reducing it into yet another version of a liberal, pluralistic "multiculturalism." [End Page 410]

Ali Behdad
University of California, Los Angeles


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pp. 409-410
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