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Reviewed by:
  • Memory across Borders: Nabokov, Perec, Chamoiseau by Sara-Louise Cooper
  • Fabienne Cheung
Memory across Borders: Nabokov, Perec, Chamoiseau. By Sara-Louise Cooper. (Transcript, 6.) Oxford: Legenda, 2016. 174 pp.

Sara-Louise Cooper's thought-provoking monograph deftly weaves together her three chosen writers—Vladimir Nabokov, Georges Perec, and Patrick Chamoiseau, who [End Page 475] might initially appear to sit uneasily together—across countries, times, and languages. Cooper's emphasis on the transmission, understanding, and mobility of memory unites the three authors in such a way that allows Cooper to cross linguistic and national boundaries with ease, all while demonstrating that these boundaries are not as rigid as the reader might assume. By focusing on the authors' relationship to France and the French language, Cooper demonstrates how these three writers' works hold up a mirror to the French literary canon from beyond and outside its borders, inflecting it with histories of mobility that encourage us to rethink the parameters of national literary traditions. Cooper seeks to draw out the effects of often violent transatlantic and European histories on these three writers, without ever losing sight of the complexities that these histories entail. As such, her writing remains considered and expansive, rather than reductive. Her use of four central tropes—the childhood home; the space and tension between languages; trauma; and the ludic—guides the reader through the landscape created between these writers, and between Russia, France, the UK, the US, Poland, and the Caribbean. The first chapter uses the childhood home of each author to demonstrate how the authors sit obliquely alongside any single national literary tradition, with the home being a multilingual locus of unstable identity. The childhood home becomes a nexus of linguistic and familial relations that itself encompasses several borderlines and crossings, and as such can be taken as a microcosmic site for the larger questions of mobility that Cooper discusses in the book. This is expanded in the second chapter to consider how language conflict affects each author, with the French language itself an ambivalent, sometimes violent, yet nonetheless vital presence in each of the authors' lives. The third chapter is a convincing discussion of the place of trauma for these writers and, in it, Cooper skilfully discusses a range of critical opinions from trauma theory, whilst maintaining the comparative thread that unites her three writers. Lastly, the author engages with the ludic dimensions of these authors' writing: this is most obvious in Perec's work, but Cooper shows how Chamoiseau and Nabokov also employ a playful dialogue with the reader and with the French canon (specifically Proust) in their autobiographical work, reinforcing the multivalent concept of mobility that Cooper mines in different and valuable ways throughout her study. Cooper's approach encompasses a range of critical discussions, yet her incisive close reading of each author remains central. The book will be useful to students and scholars of any of the three authors, and to those interested in the concept of mobility more widely. Cooper's future contributions are much anticipated.

Fabienne Cheung
University of Manchester


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pp. 475-476
Launched on MUSE
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