Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Trauma and Multiplicity in Nieh's Mulberry and Peach

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Trauma and Multiplicity in Nieh's Mulberry and Peach

Article excerpt

This essay addresses immigration, trauma, and psychosomatic pathology in Hualing Nieh's Mulberry and Peach. It resists a postmodern reading that would categorize Mulberry as a successful, bifurcated border crosser in an age of transnationality, and it draws a clear comparison and difference between Nieh's novel and Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine.

In Bharati Mukherjee's novel Jasmine, the eponymous South Asian protagonist successfully survives her illegal existence in America. She accomplishes this not only through constant motion (thereby evading immigration authorities) but also by inheriting multiple identities, obscuring and complicating any acceptable notion of a fixed "American" identity. Deepika Bhari suggests that this constant movement and re-adjustment, this "shifting and multiple identity of the migrant postcolonial subject between static polarities while rejecting the fixity that would be indicated in the acquisition of civic identity" (139, emph. Bhari's), characterizes both "her [postcolonial] condition and that of the ever-evolving nation with which she chooses to identify" (144). Affected by and likewise affecting the space of America, Jasmine practices states of perpetual identity change as she travels from Florida to New York City, to Iowa, and finally toward the west and California. I open this essay with Jasmine because the novel is emblematic of global mobility narratives that are currently so eagerly embraced, narratives that Mulberry and Peach necessarily demand us to rethink. While Hualing Nieh's protagonist, Mulberry, lives the condition of what Bhari names Jasmine's (and America's) "always becoming," she is hardly granted the luxury of transformative personal and positively construed self-identity; nor does she significantly affect the landscapes through which she moves. Rather, Mulberry and Peach is an allegory of how schizophrenic geopolitical divisions and internal, national conflicts often become embodied by immigrants, the psychosomatic consequences of national border crossing.

This is an essay about immigration, trauma, and its resulting somatic pathology in the female protagonist of Nieh's Mulberry and Peach, the character Mulberry representing the Chinese protagonist and the character Peach a second personality appearing in her stateside episodes. Despite the novel's multiple selves suggesting, as in Jasmine, an advantageous method of survival, the book does little to service a postmodern project that views subjects who resist, whether consciously or not, singular identification as liberated into positive multiplicity, borderlessness, and transnationality. Instead, this essay proposes how hegemonic, inter- and intra-national ideologies of "woman" encourage duplicitous behaviour in women such as Mulberry who seek some personal enjoyment and freedom but often at psychosomatic expense. This essay considers how "alien" immigrant narratives in the United States, themselves tethered to internal colonialist practices that conveniently overlook political connections between the local and the global, inhibit immigrants' subjectivity and progression. My focus on Jasmine allows me to draw a clear comparison between Jasmine's success and Mulberry's failure in America. It also serves, here and elsewhere in the essay, as an apt segue into discussing how Asian American novels invite either aggressive marketing to popular audiences or relegation to dusty library shelves. Jasmine's reception, which I criticize more so than the book's content, becomes representative of "acceptable" women's immigration trials; the novel thus enjoys popularity in Asian American studies, women's studies, ethnic studies, and American literature classrooms as well as in a wider, non-academic audience. Meanwhile, less positively concluding and more difficult novels, like Mulberry and Peach, attract scant critical attention and are relegated to library shelves, but their competing narratives are a compelling foil to novels of Jasmine's ilk. …

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