Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Problematic Identities in Women's Fiction of the Sri Lankan Diaspora

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Problematic Identities in Women's Fiction of the Sri Lankan Diaspora

Article excerpt

Alexandra Watkins, Problematic Identities in Women's Fiction of the Sri Lankan Diaspora (Brill/Rodopi, 2015)

The Sri Lankan diaspora has endured linguistic politics, internal insurgencies and the Civil War, generating creative responses by writers, painters, filmmakers and artists. Identity formation problems are often central to their work, which obseves the challenges of ethnicity, exodus and displacement for Sri Lankans within Sri Lanka and in Sri Lankan disapora locations, including Australia, England, Canada and the US. Alexandra Watkins's Problematic Identities in Women's Fiction of the Sri Lankan Diaspora offers a sound critique of significant work by women writers of the Sri Lankan diaspora: Michelle de Kretser, Yasmine Gooneratne, Chandani Lokugé, Karen Roberts, Roma Tearne and V.V. Ganeshananthan. These writers, despite having been well received by the Western academia, have gained, suggests Watkins, 'considerably less critical attention than their more prominent male counterparts - Michael Ondaatje, Romesh Gunesekera, A. Sivanandan, and Shyam Selvadurai' (2). The book, containing five chapters plus introduction and conclusion, offers a 'culturally extensive reading' (2) through the lens of Watkins's gender-specific approach.

The first chapter, 'Mimicry and Detection: Dismantling Identity in Michelle de Kretser's The Hamilton Case', critically argues de Kretser's novel through the theoretical contours of 'mimicry', inaugurated by V.S. Naipaul in his novel, The Mimic Men and in turn theoretically postulated by Homi K. Bhabha. Watkins also engages with Said, Fanon, and Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin. Subsequently, Watkins unravels 'the phenomenon of British mimicry in the Indian subcontinent' (4) through a rigorous review of Macaulay's in/famous Minute on Education prior to analysing de Kretser's text.

The next chapter, 'In Fear of Monsters: Women's Identities and the Cult of Domesticity in British Ceylon,' compares de Kretser's The Hamilton Case with Gooneratne's The Sweet and Simple Kind, since both 'focus on the spectacle of colonial domesticity' (41). Watkins critically studies these novels in the light of 'problematic identities' of female characters and their families. The chapter not only covers 'Victorian domesticity' but also engages with the 'competing ideology of Buddhist domesticity' to analyze the texts.

Chapter Three, 'Combatting Myths: Racial and Cultural Identity in Postcolonial Sri Lanka,' reconnoiters three novels: Gooneratne's The Sweet and Simple Kind, as well as Tearne's Mosquito and Roberts's July. Watkins explores the multiple tinges of racial discrimination and their 'strife in Sri Lanka during ... the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict' (81). She unfolds the contemporary issues in the context of the Buddhist-Sinhalese nationalist-linguistic politic, the LTTE politic and the two groups conflictual catastrophes. …

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