Because I signed up to participate in the Global Reading Challenge, I've immersed myself in reading writing —in translation. Without trying to locate specific themes, without seeking out comfortable stories, I've tumbled headlong into stories that all touch upon identity. Perhaps it's the Samoan who feels that her stories and way of life has been subsumed by western influences— A character in Sia Fiegel's book, Where We Once Belonged says, "Lightness died that first day in 1830 when the breakers of the sky entered these shores, forcing us all to forget...to forget...to burn our gods...to kill our gods...to redefine everything, recording history in reverse." Samoa is disappearing—
Or—in Prairies of Fire , set in Saudi Arabia , Ibrahim Nasrallah's narrator is both a fictional voice and Nasrallah's voice. The novel is replete with ambiguities and the disappearance of identities. The author was born in a refugee camp in Jordan.
Tahar Ben Jelloun's story takes place in Morocco. Here there's condemnation of those who "mistreat and disfigure the country--and the place of women." This is not a diatribe, it's a haunting story of an identity that is fostered on someone.
I'm ready to start my fourth story The Secret Life of Saeed by Emile Habiby. I know from the introduction that identity and boundaries will play a role in the book. Habiby wrote the book in 1974. He was an Arabic journalist, lived in Israel,and served three terms as a member of Israel's parliament. This book received Israel's Prize for Literature.
I am who I am, not the person, country, village, you anticipate. What happens when the other attempts to define a country in its image? Or a person? Or a town?
What happens when you lose your identity? Who do you become? Or do you roam about like a ghost trying to find a corporeal body?
Suppose you're a person whose gender doesn't fit. Do you keep trying to sqeeze yourself into the wrong clothes? Suppose you love someone whose gender is the same as yours, do you need to listen to those who want you to abandon your idenity? Suppose you are a person of colour, do you need to listen to assaults on your identity?
It's hard holding on to individual identities when muscular countries descend, when large chain stores move in, when cookies are held out to you--simply change. Simply accept what I offer.
The particulars: the details that create memorable stories. It's the specifics that stay with me, adhere to my skin, create the scene, the emotion. I want to recognize the place, know the person, stand on that partcular embankment, cry because the house was razed by a tank, laugh at the wedding, dance with the same abandon as the guests.
Drive from town to town and note how the chain stores and eateries alter the landscape. I'm an aficionado of coffee shops, but I don't want cookie cutter shops where I even know where they hide the bathroom, the lights and the extra rolls of paper.
In Torrey, Utah we stopped in a restaurant and had, according to the county paper, the best homemade pie in Utah.
Outside of Capital Reef National Park we ate seven vegetable salad made from local vegetables picked that day and trout caught that day.
Steal someone's identity and you create a figure that grows and is always there— following you everywhere.
But, I hear, someone say, "Some identities are evil." True, I say, but that's not what I am talking about. I am talking about the identities that make us unique, the particulars. Dignity is tied up to identity.
A character in Emile Habiby's book says, "I am from al-Manshiyyaq. There's not a stone left standing there except the tombs. Did you meet anyone from al-Manshiyyaq?"