Crossing the dark waters: Minor narratives, transnational subjects, and alter-histories of the African/Indian Ocean.

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Patel, Chandani.
Description:228 p.
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330.
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago.
Notes:Advisor: Loren Kruger.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--The University of Chicago, Division of the Humanities, Department of Comparative Literature, 2015.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 76-08(E), Section: A.
Summary:"When two elephants fight," M.G. Vassanji writes in Book of Secrets, "it is the grass that suffers." The quotation alludes to the consequences of the First World War in Africa, where Germany and Britain battled over the boundaries of their respective empires, but it also captures the relationship between major historical events and marginal actors in the novels at issue in this dissertation. In novels like Vassanji's Book of Secrets (1994), Abdulrazak Gurnah's Desertion (2005), Aziz Hassim's Revenge of Kali (2009), Praba Moodley's The Heart Knows no Colour (2003), Mia Couto's O outro pe da sereia (2006), and Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies, imperial histories often serve as the backdrop against which "minor" transnational subjects from the Indian subcontinent struggle to make lives for themselves in locales as diverse as Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, and Mozambique in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I argue that as these texts work to recover the otherwise occluded pasts of their migrant characters, they create new spaces of belonging for them oriented against the "major" categories of nation or ethnicity. These novels, I suggest, articulate the intimate communities South Asian migrants come to form as they travel across the Indian Ocean.
Crossing the Dark Waters therefore challenges the primacy of so-called "major" narratives of the South Asian diaspora concerned principally with post-1960s movements of South Asians to the US, UK and Canada by showing how the "minor" narratives with which I work carve out an alternative history of displacement and belonging centered around the past and present of the Indian Ocean world. Texts like Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses or Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake have become emblematic of a diasporic South Asian community abroad---one focused around the idea of India as an imaginary homeland---but the minor narratives I explore in this dissertation narrate accounts of travel, settlement and community formation that break with the centrality of India as a home for South Asian migrants. This alternative literary archive of the South Asian diaspora, I suggest, is thus less concerned with providing an account of the South Asian diaspora in East and Southern Africa than an attempt to imagine the formation of transnational South Asian communities through kinship, merchant, and labor networks. As I show throughout the project, in the literature of the African/Indian Ocean, South Asian subjects make intimate attachments to particular places and people as well as to the African continent, producing alternative forms of belonging as members of South Asian African communities.
The project begins with an examination of Vassanji's Book of Secrets and Gurnah's Desertion, novels that trace the migration of South Asian merchants from the Indian subcontinent to Africa beginning in the early 19th century and the subsequent community-building practices they participate in there. Although both novels are interested in history, they eschew linear narrative when relating the stories of South Asian migrants -who Vassanji calls brown East Africans. Instead, I show how family genealogies in the novels move between the past and present to articulate the ways recollection and imagination as well as written and oral retellings of stories recuperate what I call alter-histories, pasts obscured by official historical documents. Both novels attempt to imaginatively recuperate how the communities they describe were affected by the First World War and the machinations of empire as well as the aftermath of decolonization. The acts of recuperation in which these novels engage, however, are only ever incomplete, but I argue it is precisely the fragmented nature of the novels' genealogies that allows their protagonists to insert themselves into them and to thereby claim belonging to particular people or locales in East Africa. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)