Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is Zadie Smith's new book a self-reflection guidebook for expats?

I sort of sounds like it is. Pankaj Mishra wrote a great review of Zadie Smith's freshly published book of essays, Changing My Mind. As a big fan of Smith's, I am crazy excited about this book. ESPECIALLY after learning that a number of Smith's essays deal with topics that I hold very close to my heart: the multiplicity of human identity, the ways in which our idealogical inconsistencies make us thrive, family, loss.
The idea that “the unified singular self is an illusion” could be the leitmotif of this collection. It allows Smith to revisit her own early assumptions and to question such essentialist notions as “black woman-ness.” Reflecting on Kafka’s ambivalence about his ethnic background, she writes: “There is a sense in which Kafka’s Jewish question (‘What have I in common with Jews?’) has become everybody’s question, Jewish alienation the template for all our doubts. What is Muslimness? What is femaleness? What is Polishness? What is Englishness? These days we all find our anterior legs flailing before us. We’re all insects, all Ungeziefer, now.”

This may sound a bit melodramatic. But then — as Salman Rushdie and other practitioners of postcolonial postmodernism have stressed — ambivalence, doubt and confusion are essential to forming dynamic new hybrid selves.
Sounds like a book that any expat would enjoy, doesn't it?

Illustration by Tina Berning for The New York Times

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