(Re)writing the nation in the american African diaspora in A Mercy (2008), Malambo (2001), and Santa Lujuria (1998)
Limerick, Chantell Smith
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The study aims to discover how representations of the pre-national stage confront dominant history, how the portrayal of the experiences of women of color unsettles the masculine construction of the nation and whether historical fiction’s connection of colonial slavery to national foundations articulates and problematizes a shared black American discourse. It concludes that the genre of historical fiction represents a diasporic space within which the common evocation of the cultural memory of slavery engages the relationship between national origins and racialized elements of contemporary national identity. It places in dialogue three contemporary historical novels set during the colonial era of slavery written by women of color which represent three points of contrast in the Americas—North America, South America and the Caribbean: the U.S. novel A Mercy (2008) by Toni Morrison, the Peruvian novel Malambo (2001) by Lucía Charún-Illescas and the Cuban novel Santa lujuria o Papeles de blanco (1998) by Marta Rojas. All feature the personal journeys of Afro-descendant female protagonists. The study elucidates the roles that historical fiction, a pre-national setting and a gendered understanding of the construction of the nation play in defining the African diasporic experience in the Americas across national boundaries. The phrase “American African,” an inversion of “African-American,” is used to unsettle the hegemony of African-American representations of blackness and to indicate that these African Diasporic novels articulate an experience of the Americas as a whole. The theoretical framework draws primarily from Homi K. Bhabha (1990) regarding the nation as a literary, narrated construct; Edouard Glissant (1989) regarding the hegemony of Western, Eurocentric History and the existence of many histories which literature has the power to represent; Doris Sommer (1991) regarding the nation as a patriarchal construct and literature’s role in constructing national identity; Linda Hutcheon (1998) regarding historical fiction’s role in unsettling historical truth-claims to authenticity; and Carole Boyce Davies (1994) regarding the interrelation of race, gender and other identitarian discourses when considering the “rewriting of home” black women’s writing represents.