- Reclaiming Difference: Caribbean Women Rewrite Postcolonialism (review)
Carine M. Mardorossian’s Reclaiming Difference: Caribbean Women Rewrite Postcolonialism investigates the current state of academic conversations within the shifting and complex questions surrounding the constructions of race, gender, and class in the area of postcolonialism. In her study, Mardorossian examines what she calls the “interrelatedness of identity categories” that represents the writings of a “new generation of Caribbean writers”(19). This new generation of writers is comprised [End Page 218] of four interesting and diverse voices that greatly contribute to themes of identity, exile, migration, and the subaltern. The first chapter looks carefully and critically at the constructions of race and racial identity using Maryse Condé’s Windward Heights (a rewriting/rereading of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights). In her second chapter, Mardorossian investigates a more “canonical” postcolonial Caribbean novel, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Here again, the work is interested in the manner in which race is constructed for and by the protagonist Antoinette or what the author calls “ a process of racialization” (17). In her third chapter, Mardorossian examines a not-so-new “Caribbean” voice by looking at some of the fascinating and compelling racial and gender politics in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. In the final chapter of her study, Mardorossian juxtaposes two Caribbean authors, Edwidge Danticat and Julia Alvarez, in an effort to investigate the complexities of migration, home, and identity.
Reclaiming Difference is written in a sophisticated academic language that is worthy of the complex and social importance of its subject. While her work is written in a dense academic style, it is by no means impenetrable. Mardorossian shows a great deal of respect for both the area of literature and postcolonial studies. Her influences include thinkers like Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, and Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. Her solid research in the area of transnational and diaspora studies is unquestionable. Her book celebrates a matrix of what might be generally called “hybrid;” however, while reading this book, the word hybrid never quite suffices. Mardorossian uses an assortment of words and phrases that could be thought about as “hybrid,” but like the word itself, the words and phrases help to elucidate not only the word but also the idea of hybridity. Words and phrases like “the process of becoming,” “crossing categories,” “transformative,” “creolization,” and “hyphenated categories” keep the reader wedded to the voices, value, and complexity of hybrid identities.
Mardorossian has chosen both an interesting and diverse group of Caribbean writers; these selections appear to suit her overwhelming interest in rethinking the ideas of “home.” Each writer ventures deeply into complex and difficult relationships to both regional and national identities (personally and professionally); this cosmopolitan aspect supports much of what is both culturally and economically important about globalization. These writers’ “hyphenated” identities suggest that they neither “belong” to the colonizer or the colonized, but as this study shows, they belong to both: Jean Rhys (Dominica/UK), Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe/USA), Julia Alvarez (Dominican Republic/USA), and Edwidge Danticat (Haiti/USA).
Furthermore, Reclaiming Difference wishes to resituate the notion of postcolonialism as an anticolonial and primarily masculine kind of discourse. Mardorossian makes a case for distinguishing between the first generation of Caribbean writers (primarily male) and the second generation (primarily female). Quoting Edmondson, she explains “migration of [End Page 219] the Caribbean, particularly in the last twenty-five years, has been of a heavily female nature, owing particularly to the burgeoning market in domestic work” (9). While many male Caribbean writers identified with notions of exile (social and political) when leaving their homeland, their female counterparts became much more comfortable with the term migration as an economic idea found in domestic work; Mardorossian develops this dialectic of exile/migration.
Given the increasing interest in the areas of globalization and transnational studies, Reclaiming Difference would be a useful blueprint for designing either a course or future studies in these emerging fields. Moreover, the movements between the Victorian classics of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and their Caribbean counterparts Windward Heights...