Translated people, translated texts : language and migration in some contemporary African fiction

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis examines contemporary migration narratives by four African writers living in the diaspora and writing in English: Leila Aboulela and Jamal Mahjoub from the Sudan, now living in Scotland and Spain respectively and Abdulrazak Gurnah and Moyez G. Vassanji from Tanzania now residing in the UK and Canada. Focusing on how language operates in relation to both culture and identity, this study foregrounds the complexities of migration as cultural translation. Cultural translation is a concept which locates itself in postcolonial literary theory as well as translation studies. The manipulation of English in such a way as to signify translated experience is crucial in this regard. The thesis focuses on a particular angle on cultural translation for each writer under discussion: translation of Islam and the strategic use of nostalgia in Leila Aboulela's texts; translation and the production of scholarly knowledge in Jamal Mahjoub's novels; translation and storytelling in Abdulrazak Gurnah's fiction; and finally translation between the individual and old and new communities in Vassanji's work. The conclusion of the thesis brings all four writer's texts into conversation across these angles. What emerges from this discussion across the chapter boundaries is that cultural translation rests on ongoing complex processes of transformation determined by idiosyncratic factors like individual personality as well as social categories like nationality, race, class and gender. The thesis thus contributes to the understanding of migration as a common condition of the postcolonial world as well as offering a detailed look at particular travellers and their unique journeys.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 209-215)