Trailing Clouds: Immigrant Fiction in Contemporary America


We stand to learn much about the durability of or changes in the American way of life from writers such as Bharati Mukherjee (born in India), Ursula Hegi (born in Germany), Jerzy Kosinski (born in Poland), Jamaica Kincaid (born in Antigua), Cristina Garcia (born in Cuba), Edwidge Danticat (born in Haiti), Wendy Law-Yone (born in Burma), Myl ne Dressler (born in the Netherlands), Lan Cao (born in Vietnam), and such Korean-born authors as Chang-rae Lee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Nora Okja Keller writers who in ...

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We stand to learn much about the durability of or changes in the American way of life from writers such as Bharati Mukherjee (born in India), Ursula Hegi (born in Germany), Jerzy Kosinski (born in Poland), Jamaica Kincaid (born in Antigua), Cristina Garcia (born in Cuba), Edwidge Danticat (born in Haiti), Wendy Law-Yone (born in Burma), Myl ne Dressler (born in the Netherlands), Lan Cao (born in Vietnam), and such Korean-born authors as Chang-rae Lee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Nora Okja Keller writers who in recent years have come to this country and, in their work, contributed to its culture." David Cowart In Trailing Clouds, David Cowart offers fresh insights into contemporary American literature by exploring novels and short stories published since 1970 by immigrant writers. Balancing historical and social context with close readings of selected works, Cowart explores the major themes raised in immigrant writing: the acquisition of language, the dual identity of the immigrant, the place of the homeland, and the nature of citizenship. Cowart suggests that the attention to first-generation writers (those whose parents immigrated) has not prepared us to read the fresher stories of those more recent arrivals whose immigrant experience has been more direct and unmediated. Highlighting the nuanced reflection in immigrant fiction of a nation that is ever more diverse and multicultural, Cowart argues that readers can learn much about the changes in the American way of life from writers who have come to this country, embraced its culture, and penned substantial literary work in English.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This carefully researched, well-written book defies comparison to other recent criticism."—Choice

"In taking on contemporary immigrant as against second-generation authorship, David Cowart looks to the refractions of departure, journey, and arrival, for what in her 1926 narrative Gertrude Stein notably called 'the making of Americans.' The era in view, however, is not that of historic Ellis Island, the huddled masses, but rather Kennedy or other contemporary airports—a crossing of American borders in a time of Homeland Security and global migration. What rites of passage, what latest makings of American, then, are most to be met with in immigrant novels and stories since the 1970s? Trailing Clouds highlights eleven or so texts yet always within an allusive wider reach. Cowart works from two first bearings, Nabokov and Saul Bellow. This is an American read through memorial pasts, in Nabokov's case Sovietized Russia, in Bellow's Jewish Europe into his Quebec childhood. Each, brilliantly, reinvents the New World, their novels anthropologies as it were. In this Nabokov and Bellow share a similar old-new immigration syndrome, whether the haunted Polish-Jewish Jerzy Kosinski, the India-to-Canada-to-America Bharati Mukherjee, or the Dominican Julia Alvarez, each on Cowart's reckoning and in the double sense of the phrase 'spectacular border intellectuals'."—A. Robert Lee, Nihon University, Toronto Modern Language Review

"While some of the authors discussed in Trailing Clouds are well established, others are just making their presence felt: they are the classroom texts of the near future. David Cowart provides original and nuanced readings and enriches our understanding of immigrant fiction. He taught me things I had not seen. Cowart eschews an emphasis on victimization, balkanization, and the horrors of American imperialism. While not condoning a lot that is wrong with America, Cowart listens to his authors and to all that they are grateful for in their new lives."—Kathryn Hume, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Pennsylvania State University

"David Cowart's Trailing Clouds maps the most recent chapters in the literature of a country that has long been marked by a history of arrivals from remarkably heterogeneous origins. Cowart's readings of writers from Saul Bellow to Jamaica Kincaid, from Julia Alvarez to Chang-Rae Lee, from Cristina Garcia to Ursula Hegi, and from Bharati Mukherjee to Edwidge Danticat offer often provocative new interpretations of some of the most important contemporary immigrant literature and develop a general typology of shared features of these new books that complicate the dividing line between 'us' and 'them' and take part in helping readers imagine the changing face of America."—Werner Sollors, Harvard University

"David Cowart's Trailing Clouds is an outstanding critical guide to the varied and disparate field of U.S. immigrant literature. It provides a solid combination of structural analysis and careful readings of a very wide range of texts—established immigrant authors like Saul Bellow, newer authors like Edwidge Danticat and Ursula Hegi, and less well-known and very recent additions to American ethnic literature such as Wendy Law-Yone and Junot Díaz. Cowart's particular strength is his wide knowledge of a broad range of American and international literatures, ethnic and otherwise, which he mines to illustrate what makes immigrant writing in the United States fresh, exciting, and significant."—Dorothea Fischer-Hornung, University of Heidelberg, President of MESEA

"David Cowart's Trailing Clouds breaks new ground in this carefully developed study of the explosion of recent immigrant fiction in the United States. Combining close readings of several well-known novels (Nabokov's Pnin and Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet) and numerous recent works that have as yet received little critical attention, Cowart devises a controversial but persuasive thesis that the American Dream is still alive-and perhaps most alive for contemporary immigrants to this country. Trailing Clouds, then, not only offers fresh insights into the nature of recent immigrant fiction but into the nature of the immigrant experience itself."—Larry McCaffery, San Diego State University, author of Storming the Reality Studio, Postmodern Fiction: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide, and The Metafictional Muse

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801472879
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2006
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction : the new immigrant writing 1
1 Slavs of New York : Being there, Mr. Sammler's planet 14
2 Immigration and primal scene : Alvarez's How the Garcia girls lost their accents 41
3 Survival on the tangled bank : Hegi's The vision of Emma Blau and Mukherjee's Jasmine 55
4 Language, dreams, and art in Cristina Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban 86
5 Korean connection : Chang-rae Lee and company 101
6 Haitian Persephone : Danticat's Breath, eyes, memory 126
7 Assimilation and adolescence : Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy and Lan Cao's Monkey Bridge 138
8 Ethnicity as pentimento : Mylene Dressler's The Deadwood beetle 160
9 Immigration as Bardo : Wendy Law-Yone's The coffin tree 172
10 Closet and mask : Junot Diaz's Drown 190
Conclusion : we, them, us 205
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