- Contemporary Migration Literature in German and English: A Comparative Study by Sandra Vlasta
Particularly since the 1980s, Europe has been coming to terms with its identity as a migration destination, a fact that has caused it to critically redefine the way it thinks about nationality. The stereotypical faces of nations have been joined by peripheral citizens, guest workers, asylum seekers, and other migrants from all corners of the earth in fluctuating number since the end of World War II. These newcomers have been instrumental in rebuilding Europe's infrastructure after the devastation of war; now their descendants and successors are helping to rebuild conceptions of nationality, not least with their creative output. Film, literature, art, music, cuisine, and even scholarship are keeping pace with these social fluctuations. Sandra Vlasta has delved into the heart of this cultural revolution with her Contemporary Migration Literature in German and English: A Comparative Study, examining novels with the theme of migration to better understand the immigrant experience.
Research on literary developments in the context of migration has focused predominantly on autobiographical details, such as the native language and country of origin of authors. This focus has sparked protest among scholars and authors alike, who feel that the literature produced is valued exclusively by the context that produced it, rather than the intrinsic value of the texts themselves. Further, research on German language texts has focused predominantly on authors residing in Germany. There is relatively little research focusing on the literature produced in the context of migration in Austria.
Vlasta addresses both research lacunae first by analyzing literature not by migration as a context, but migration as a thematic element within the text. Her work seeks to demonstrate that "a corpus of migration literature can be defined using the themes and motifs that occur within the texts" (43). Although reluctant to limit texts according to the biographical information of the authors, Vlasta limits the parameters of her investigation to two comparable national contexts, those of Great Britain and of Austria. By comparing texts from these two contexts, she builds upon the preexisting wealth of scholarship investigating migration literature in Great Britain to provide a sturdy foundation for her analysis of migration literature in Austria. In her analysis of the texts, Vlasta demonstrates first, that the motifs that fall under the theme of migration ultimately unify authors in their migrant [End Page 482] experience, and second, that these motifs simultaneously demonstrate the diversity of the migrant experience.
Vlasta is an adjunct professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. She graduated from the University of Vienna with a doctorate in Comparative Literature in 2008. This monograph is closely related to her dissertation topic, which also compared works in German and English in the context of migration. Vlasta has published on the topics of travelogues, multilingualism and identity, postcolonial literature, and the growing popularity of literature in the context of migration in Austria and Europe. Her work, particularly an article due out this year, examining the power of literary prizes to bring peripheral literatures to the attention of the public eye, is immensely informative and timely.
In her present monograph, Vlasta investigates eighteen novels from eight primary authors, four writing in Austria and four writing in Great Britain. These authors include Dimitré Dinev, Anna Kim, Hamid Sadr, and Vladmir Vertlib from Austria and Monica Ali, Timothy Mo, Preethy Nair, and Caryl Phillips from Great Britain. Vlasta also references the works of authors writing outside these two national contexts to further illustrate her arguments. In an effort to resuscitate and reinvent the theoretical approach of thematology, Vlasta has chosen to analyze these novels not according to form, but according to their shared theme of migration. By using a thematological approach, Vlasta is not ignoring the formal aspects of literature, but rather focusing on those thematic elements of texts that reveal the sociocultural contexts that made these texts possible. This not only reveals the contexts, but also provides an understanding of the (im)migrant experience. Further, Vlasta professes to use this approach...