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  • Literature, Language, and Multiculturalism in Scandinavia and the Low Countries ed. by Wolfgang Behschnitt, Sarah De Mul, and Liesbeth Minnaard
  • Annette Thorsen Vilslev (bio)
Literature, Language, and Multiculturalism in Scandinavia and the Low Countries. Edited by Wolfgang Behschnitt, Sarah De Mul, and Liesbeth Minnaard. Amsterdam, The Netherlands/New York: Textext, Rodopi, 2013. xiii + 343 pp. Paper, $105.

This astute and open-minded book examines multiculturalism in Scandinavia and the Low Countries, and, furthermore, theorizes the multilingual aspects of multicultural literature. Its reflections on the particular language situations of bilingual or migrant writers are important not only for the recognition of different types of multicultural experiences and literary expressions, such as "exile," "allochton," "immigrant," or "minority" literature, but also to discussions of migration or multicultural literature more generally (for example, its nuanced reflections on multilingualism could prove helpful in relation to works by Yoko Tawada, or the decolonial writing strategies of Ngugi wa Thiong'o). However, the focus combining the articles of this volume is the rare but fruitful comparison of multicultural literatures in Scandinavia and the Low Countries, with articles focusing particularly on Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Flanders (the latter is, of course, not a state, but nonetheless a region with a strong national consciousness of independence). These places are multicultural in the simple descriptive sense that more cultures coexist there, and the book describes the multicultural literature as a function of their specific political, institutional, and discursive situations.

In short, the volume provides an informative study of contemporary multicultural literature and related debates in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Flanders. It contains a preface and four parts with a total of fourteen articles addressing the question of the role of multiculturalism in these national literatures, and it gives a comparative view on the contemporary situation these places, which share the fact that their official national languages are minor European languages facing other challenges of publication and circulation than Anglophone literatures.

The third and longest part of the volume contains seven analytical essays, presenting examples of how multilingual texts intervene in the discussion of multiculturalism. This part includes reflections on canonized writers such as Swedish-Greek Theodor Kallifatides, as well as younger writers like Johannes Anryu, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, and Marjaneh Bakhtiari, who, as Magnus Nilsson shows, question the discursive constructions of immigration literature as such, while using multilingualism as a critical strategy. In her article [End Page 263] on the Dutch literary field, Liesbeth Minnaard traces related discussions about the "alterity industry" that among others, a writer like Hafid Bouazza is known to have questioned.

The volume analyzes both the preconditions of multicultural literature, and the lack of recognition of multicultural writers, paying due attention to differences in the ongoing debates in the respective national contexts and language situations. Particularly refreshing is its focus on multilingualism in literatures usually discussed in relation to their national languages. The multilingual literature is analyzed according to the linguistic and text characteristics that Elien Declercq and Michael Boyden identify in a first part of the volume. Multilingualism finds different expressions: some multilingual writers choose a language dependent on the situation (diglossia); others intentionally mix different language codes. Literary bilingualism could be the Swedish or Greek works of before mentioned Kallifatides. However, most of the literature analyzed in the volume can be characterized as heterolingualism, that is, a type of multilingualism where different languages either, so to speak, compete for dominance in the text, or add local color to it. In this linguistic variant, the language function is often closely tied to the multicultural identity of the author, and the non-diglossic forms of textual bilingualism can often be approached literary responses to the sociolinguistic realities of language shifts and pidginization. Declercq and Boyden give useful, precise methodological descriptions, introducing concepts and questions, which lie at the heart of the linguistic strategies of the literature analyzed in the volume.

Some of the contributions are reconnoiters of multicultural or migrant literature, of their existence or "non-existence" in the national literary debates. In other words, these articles also investigate problems related to visibility or non-visibility, canonization, and national markets, for example Søren Frank writing about the situation in Danmark, or...


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