Literature seen from an outsider’s perspective

Leila Slimani, author of In the Kingdom of Others. Photo: Catherine Hélie/Editions Gallimard

In Leila Slimani’s 2020 novel In the Land of Others, Mathilde, a 19-year-old woman born in Alsace, France, meets Amin, a handsome Moroccan soldier whose regiment was stationed in her village during World War II . She followed him back to Rabat and then to an isolated piece of land his father had purchased, hoping to turn it into a thriving farm.

She was dismayed at the first sight of the scenery: “There are no flowers, no cypresses, just a few dwarf olive trees surviving among the rocks and stones. The mountain seems hostile to life.”

Not only was Mathilde alienated by the unforgiving terrain, but she was also at sea in a culture she couldn’t comprehend. When Amine told her they were going to live with his submissive mother, she doted on her favorite son until the current tenants moved out of their house and she took control.

“‘That’s the way it is,’ said Amin. She was going to hear it many times. At that moment, she understood that she was a foreigner, a woman, a wife, a being at the mercy of others.”

The idea of ​​being a stranger in a strange land is not a new literary conceit. It has been explored from multiple perspectives, including the entry of the poor and/or minorities into elite academic institutions.

Angie Thomas, author of “The Hate You Give,” speaks Sept. 20 at Spelman College in Atlanta. Photo: Paramount+’s Paras Griffin/Getty Images

In “The Hate You Give,” Angie Thomas recounts her experiences growing up in a violent neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi. The protagonist of her novel, Starr Carter, is a 16-year-old girl who grew up in a gritty environment. Neighborhood, difficult to navigate the alien world of a private prep school.

In a conversation with the Cleveland Public Library, Thomas described an incident where one of her professors asked everyone to introduce themselves and describe their summer. “They were talking, ‘I went to Africa, I went to Fiji,'” Thomas said. “I was like, I’m not going anywhere, you know? I experienced how hot Mississippi can get in the summer. That was one of those moments that made me feel special.”

Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’ describes her childhood growing up with fundamentalists Survivor in a remote mountain area in Idaho. She was 17 when she first stepped into the classroom. She knew nothing about the Holocaust, never heard of Napoleon or Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Needless to say, she has a lot going for her culturally and academically.

Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon. Photo: Courtesy of Adam Gopnick

Adam Gopnik’s “Paris to the Moon” describes his life experiences in Paris and the cultural differences he encountered, albeit from a privileged perspective.

In an interview with the French American Foundation, he cited several key contrasts, including Differences in attitudes towards youth and age: “Everyone in America wants to go back to 16 again, while in my experience many French would be happy to be 40 – (bachelor’s degree) far behind, sexual adventures still continue.”

Also, “There are many people in America who want black helicopters to sweep and enslave everyone and make everyone obey the government; in France…there seems to be a lot of people who believe that there will be white helicopters swooping down so that every forty-year-old can get from The government gets a permanent pension.”

Writer Arlie Russell Hochschild signing books in downtown Auckland in 2017. Photo: Michael Macor/The Chronicle 2017

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild consciously injects herself into a landscape she doesn’t understand as a liberal Berkeley. In “Strangers in Their Own Land,” she goes deep into the stronghold of the conservative right: the Louisiana Estuary Nation. She met people who spoke a language different from her own who vehemently opposed many political ideas that she and everyone she knew considered sacred.

Hochschild has a hard time understanding why residents in an area ravaged by the oil and petrochemical industries are hostile to the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental regulations.

Clearly, getting out of the bubble won’t be easy. It’s also clear that the effort required for such a journey often results in a better understanding of the “other,” even if the final picture isn’t always as pretty as the bachelor’s.

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