- Africans in Europe. The Culture of Exile and Emigration from Equatorial Guinea to Spain
There are few scholars today more qualified to write about exile and migration from Equatorial Guinea than Michael Ugarte. His scholarly engagement with, and personal commitment to, the authors and literary production of this West African country dates back a number of years, and his academic credentials as a specialist on the subject of exile have been well-established by his monograph Shifting Grounds: Spanish Civil War Exile Literature. It is not merely, however, his scholarly record, but his personal history—and the way in which it renders itself relevant in his academic pursuits—that makes Ugarte particularly well suited for a study of this kind. The book’s opening paragraph reminds us: “As a first-generation North American whose parents were born and raised in Spain, I have been interested in the cultural exchanges arising as a result of repatriation, exile, or emigration” (ix). It is thus no surprise that “the multifarious intentions of this book” encompass “an attempt to bridge that daunting gap between the personal and the intellectual” (xi).
Divided into nine chapters, Africans in Europe starts with the coinage of a new critical term, “emixile,” a neologism that aims to cover “the theoretical underpinnings for understanding emigration and immigration in the age of postcolonialism through the perspective of exile” (xi). From this juncture, the book follows a somewhat conventional narrative in national literary histories, structured around chronological parameters, intertwined with a thematic focus. Providing a historical prelude, chapter two traces the genesis of exile back to the age of slave trading in Equatorial Guinea. Not without some conceptual challenges, the book proposes that “postcolonial migration begins with slavery. How could it be otherwise?” (18). Through a close reading of excerpts from slaves’ court complaints, drawn from a study by historian Ibrahim Sundiata, Ugarte aptly explores “the ambiguous semantics of slavery—where does slavery end and voluntary labor begin?” (21).
Chapter three, “The First Wave,” focuses on Equatorial Guinea’s literary production and its figures’ life experiences, mapping generations of exile and migration under the colonial regime and its aftermath, during the early and mid-twentieth century. One of the highlights of this section lies in the connection Ugarte draws between Constantino Ocha’a’s Semblanzas de la hispanidad and Ramiro de Maeztu’s Defensa de la hispanidad, which formulate a non anti-colonial nationalism grounded in a universal concept of “‘Hispanicity”’ (35). In seeking explanations for the apparent absence of anti-colonial sentiments in Equatorial Guinean literary productions up to the 1980s, Ugarte correctly underscores the role of ethnic cohesion, a legacy of Spanish colonial politics, which would unfortunately take a somewhat different direction in the postcolonial era. Within the larger frame of Africans in Europe, however, this chapter appears to play a transitional role as Ugarte moves towards the book’s most critically significant focus, in the devotion of two central chapters to an “emixilic model par excellence” (57): Donato Ndongo Bidyogo.
Aside from superb biographical renditions of the professional affairs associated with Ndongo’s various periods of exile, these chapters feature a timely rescue [End Page 166] of his lesser-known earlier writings, including his journalistic pieces “Pensando en Frantz Fanon” and the short story “El sueño,” from the 1970s. The readings of his seminal novels, Las tinieblas de tu memoria negra (translated into English by Ugarte himself) and Los poderes de la tempestad, are especially compelling for the way in which the author reframes them within a larger African and negritude tradition, that of Chinua Achebe—“another emixilic African writer,” Léopold Senghor, and Franz Fanon.
The title of this book, Africans in Europe, is at no point better justified than in chapter five, “El metro: Saga of the African Emigrant,” focused on immigration (rather than emigration or exile), thus shifting the locus of enunciation from departure to arrival. El metro, Ndongo’s latest novel, is discussed as an exploration of the epic journey—from Africa...