- Second Arrivals: Landscape and Belonging in Contemporary Writing of the Americas
Sarah Phillips Casteel’s Second Arrivals: Landscape and Belonging in Contemporary Writing of the Americas is a remarkably original and illuminating study of contemporary diasporic writers across the Americas whose work she demonstrates “is distinguished by an attention to landscape that is uniquely informed by experiences of cultural and geographical displacement” (3). Casteel suggests that they articulate alternative forms of emplacement through their interrogation of myths of origin and nationality, emphasizing the dialectical relationship between place and being. She extends the work of such theorists as Lawrence Buell, who also resists deference to the claims of the natural world and instead proposes an understanding of nature and culture as mutual rather than separate spheres.
Casteel’s work signifies a substantial paradigm shift within the critical field of diaspora studies. For instance, she sets the poles of city and country within a more dialectical relationship and highlights the ways in which the term “diaspora” is a signifier not just of transnationality and movement, but also of political struggles to define the local as distinctive community in a historical context of displacement (3, 4). More importantly, she critiques theorists of diaspora studies for placing exaggerated stress on the virtues of the city for diverse populations while overlooking how the city may also be understood as limiting possibilities for emplacement (4). Thus, Casteel provides a compelling reading of both the political limitations and potentialities of rural spaces for diasporic writers across the Americas.
The work is divided into two sections titled “Critical Pastoralism” and “Marvelous Gardens and Gothic Wilderness.” Chapter One centers on the representations of the pastoral in V. S. Naipaul’s autobiographical novel of English rural life, The Enigma of Arrival (1988), and Derek Walcott’s verse biography of Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, Tiepolo’s Hound (2000), which are set respectively in Wiltshire, England, and Pointoise, France. Casteel suggests that each text hinges “on a tension between an idealizing vision of nature on the one hand, and a historicizing view on the other” (21). Chapter Two focuses on the myth of the West in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral (1997) and Bernard Malamud’s A New Life (1961). Casteel deviates from contemporary criticism that posits that Jewish American writing is unreceptive to nature, and argues that “if there [End Page 197] is a rejection of the natural world in Jewish American writing there is also a countervailing attraction to the American Pastoral,” which is embodied as the desire to access an “essential America” and to claim a “New World” that the Jew has not yet discovered (55, 56). Chapter Three is a compelling study of a nature unaffected by outside forces; in Japanese Canadian writer Joy Kogawa’s novels Obasan (1981) and Itsuka (1992), nature provides a safe haven from the social world. These works highlight “the theme of displacement and racial persecution against a backdrop of benign and harmonious landscape” (84).
Section Two provides an in-depth study of alternative modes of expression that offer innovative treatments of landscape and its relationship to belonging (109). In this section’s first chapter (Chapter Four) Casteel concentrates on nonfictional works—Jamaica Kincaid’s My Garden (Book) (1999) and Michael Pollan’s Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (1991). Citing Kincaid, she suggests that the authors’ garden writing “is united by a common premise: that ‘the world cannot be left out of the garden’” (112). Chapter Five is a rich exploration of rural Caribbean novels such as Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night (1996), Gisèle Pineau’s The Drifting of Spirits (1993), and Maryse Conde’s Crossing the Mangrove (1989). Casteel suggests that these authors reframe the relationship between the garden and the exile by challenging the conventional gendering of the garden narrative through their intermingling of Edenic motifs with dystopian landscape imagery (133). In the next chapter Casteel “moves beyond the literary”—focusing on visual artists Isaac Julien and Jin-me Yoon, whose work “demonstrates the...