The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse @WorldEdBooks and Ellis Island: A People’s History by Malgorzata Szejnert @ScribeUKbooks offer an excellent complementary read, giving a different take on getting through the gateway to the Promised Land that was the United States a century ago.
Ellis Island in New York harbour remains the ultimate symbol of American immigration. It was the continent’s busiest inspection station for sixty years until it closed in 1954. Millions of immigrants went through an extensive and elaborate legal and medical vetting process when they disembarked: Jews escaping from political and economic oppression in czarist Russia and Europe; Italians escaping rural poverty; Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks and Greeks . . . along with arrivants from Syria, Turkey and Armenia. Approximately forty per cent of U.S. citizens today can trace at least one of their ancestors back to Ellis Island. Continue reading Review | The Last Days of Ellis Island, Gaëlle Josse & Ellis Island: A People’s History, Malgorzata Szejnert
The Moroccan poet, novelist, essayist, and journalist, Tahar Ben Jelloun, is one of France’s most celebrated writers. He has written extensively about Moroccan culture, the immigrant experience, human rights, and sexual identity. An author who intervenes in politics, On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughter (translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins) is the third book in a series in which the previous titles are Racism and Islam explained. It takes the form of a semi-imagined dialogue between him and his daughter. Continue reading Review | On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughter, Tahar Ben Jelloun | Small Axes/HopeRoad
Ahead of the first two live podcast recordings of the 15-part weekly #BridgingTheDivide series going out on Thursday 30 July, here is a guest review of the featured book, Mazel Tov, to give a taste of what you’ll hear and experience. Tune in on Thursday at 5 and 6 p.m. to hear author J S Margot and publisher Adam Freudenheim talk about their experiences.
Towards the end of this marvellous memoir the narrator writes “If I occasionally had the temerity even briefly to think I could penetrate the millefeuille of Jewish culture, I was soon disabused of this idea.” The book is full of various cultural millefeulles that require penetrating – ironic considering that patisserie is the one gastronomic art that the Belgians do not excel in.
Mazel Tov is the story of an extraordinary friendship – in fact several extraordinary friendships that marked the twenties of the author J.S.Margot. At first sight it is the story of a young Flemish woman at university in Antwerp who teaches the four children of an Orthodox Jewish family to earn a bit of extra money. It is also the story of her first great love for an Iranian political refugee. In both cases she is exposed to a culture and religion that is not her own. She also begins to realise that she is on the receiving end of a certain amount of paranoia and suspicion from both her employers and her boyfriend. Continue reading Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | Mazel Tov, J.S. Margot | Pushkin Press
So refugee week is over. The fact that the UK is the only country in Europe where refugees who arrive looking for a safe haven are detained indefinitely, and are often sent back home to face persecution, torture or death, will be kicked into the long grass once again. Certain politicians continue to use the language of disaster and provoke fear by swelling numbers of arrivals, backed by box-ticking Home Office officials.
Refugees are individuals seeking asylum for humanitarian reasons and suffer trauma, broken dreams, love and loss as a consequence. They are not amorphous groups to be rendered and processed and imprisoned in detention centres like criminals. Such a hostile environment is anything but a welcoming new home, and some go crazy with grief. Continue reading Review | A Country to Call Home (ed.) Lucy Popescu | Book of the Week
On 9 November, the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published a list of 33,293 people who died trying to emigrate to Europe between 1993 and May of this year. The vast majority drowned in the Mediterranean. As a death toll, the figure is numbing. As a proportion of the EU’s population of 510 million, it is less than 0.007 percent – smaller than the population of, say, Skelmersdale or Haywards Heath – an influx that could easily be accommodated within our large, wealthy continent.
Jenny Erpenbeck, the brilliant German novelist whose four previous books have probed her country’s troubled 20th century history, has now turned to the greatest challenge it has faced in the 21st: the refugee crisis. Her latest book, Go, Went, Gone, eschews the magical realist elements of its predecessors in favour of a crisp documentary approach. It also draws on that classically German genre, the Bildungsroman, a novel charting the moral education of its protagonist. Continue reading Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck