The Story of My Life

Salman Rushdie once said: ‘Literature has little or nothing to do with a writer’s home address.’ Maybe not, but when a person is uprooted from home and culture, particularly as a refugee, it would be a strange sort of literature that did not address that condition. The six refugees whose work is collected in The Story of My Life have had to come to terms with exile in an often indifferent or actively hostile country. The book is the result of a creative writing course taught by Carole Angier and she speaks movingly of the way that, in their struggle to communicate their experiences, they discovered the joy of language and literary creation. The writers form a disparate group, in age, in origin, and in the length of time they have been in Britain. Occasionally in prose but predominantly in poetry, they write of where they have come from, how they got here and what their lives are like now. From Afghanistan, Eritrea, Chad, Iran and Uganda, they have in common what all humans share; a need to speak and a desire to be listened to. All proceeds from this beautiful little book go to the refugee support group Asylum Welcome.

A wider-ranging collection of refugee writing is The Silver Throat of the Moon, the third anthology of exiled authors edited by Jennifer Langer. This volume, which brings together over 60 writers, is more philosophical and analytical in approach than Carole Angier’s volume. In addition to a rich selection of poetry and prose fiction from writers originating in countries as diverse as Algeria and Zimbabwe, there are essays about the implications of being a writer in exile. Subjects range from the loss or transmutation of traditional culture to the thorny problems of translation.

This is an excellent and comprehensive anthology, full of passionate and thoughtful writing by the people most likely to know the truth about life in exile; refugees themselves.

New Internationalist issue 384 magazine cover This article is from the November 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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