Familiar Ghosts: Imagining Lives, Re-imagining the Nation, Inventing the Future

Boldrini, Lucia. 2024. Familiar Ghosts: Imagining Lives, Re-imagining the Nation, Inventing the Future. Journal of Foreign Languages and Cultures, 8(2), pp. 31-47. ISSN 2096-4374 [Article] (Forthcoming)

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Abstract or Description

This article focuses on novels that, located on the boundary between biography, autobiography and fiction, between detailed archival historical research and imagination, between the documentary and the speculative, seek to reconstruct the life of an ancestor of the writer-narrator to reflect on the traumas, exploitation, hopes and desires of generations who, in their diasporas, also helped create their modern nations, or whose story challenges the exclusions on which the concept of the nation has been built. The texts discussed are Melania Mazzucco’s Vita (2003, translated into English by Virginia Jewiss, 2005), Vona Groarke’s Hereafter: The Telling Life of Ellen O’Hara (2022), Wu Ming 2 and Antar Mohamed’s Timira: Romanzo Meticcio (2012, no English translation, but translatable as Timira: A Mestizo Novel), and Maryse Condé’s Victoire, les saveurs et les mots (2006, translated by Richard Philcox as Victoire: My Mother’s Mother, 2010). At their center is the negotiation between the individual truth and the relational story across generations on the one hand, and, on the other, the tracing of collective histories such as those of nation, of colonization, of diaspora, of internal and external displacement, of rights and emancipation (the downtrodden, the poor, women, the migrant, the refugees), of the origins of dispossession and the permanence of its effects. At the core of the narratives is also the ghostliness of the erased (from history, from memory, from citizenship), the departed (in the sense of being dead and of having travelled away), the in-between (generic: between the historical and documentary on the other hand, and the novelistic, the fable, fantasy on the other; geographical: between countries, between places, nationalities, national affiliations; historical: across generations; racial: the mestizo, the mulatto). It is, specifically, the biofictional imagination that enables these diasporic, transnational, transracial accounts to open up the possibility of a different, liberating future, by offering the space to imagine such future, but also by recognizing, through its explicit acknowledgement of its recourse to fictionality, that it does not aim to construct a new myth to replace historical fact, but that it invites all of us to imagine, and strive to bring into existence, a different reality. In this sense, the biofictional impulse of these narratives is a profoundly ethical one.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


14 March 2024Submitted
13 May 2024Accepted

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Date Deposited:

20 May 2024 15:30

Last Modified:

18 Jun 2024 21:16

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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