Migration as the Subject of Literary Art

Whether in your current courses in Language and Literature, or looking forward to the upcoming Individual Oral of the revised course (first examinations 2021), it certainly appears that a matter which touches our lives and those of our students all around the world is that of migration, immigration. The combination of examining literary art with the way it addresses a global concern might work well with some of the following works.

Fortunately, with the freedom from restriction to ‘prescribed lists,’ whether in Part 4 currently or 4 (at HL) or 2 (at SL) in the upcoming revision, teachers are well able to build such connecting threads or global angles as migration within their syllabuses.

Some recent works involving immigrants that you might want to consider (or at least read for your own interest are) are the following:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (originally written in English). The Wikipedia entry on the novel delivers a fair summation of the novel: ‘The main themes of the novel are emigration and refugee problems. The novel is about a young couple, Saeed and Nadia, who live in an unnamed city undergoing civil war and finally have to flee, using a system of fictitious doors, which lead to different locations around the globe.’ The book was named by The New York Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2017.

Two works by Valeria Luiselli (also composed in English) deal with migration issues on the US southern border. One is a novel, the other an essay. In Lost Children Archive, ‘A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. Their destination: Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home. . . As the family drives–through Virginia to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas–we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, harrowing adventure–both in the desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations.’ (www.penguinrandomhouse.com)

The book length essay, Tell Me How It Ends: An essay in forty questions, a much shorter work, recounts in painful and compelling detail the fate of migrant children as they go through the legal system where the author works as a volunteer interviewer/interpreter for immigrant children in New York City.

Finally, Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone recounts the experiences of African migrants in Germany. This is a powerful and engaging novel (translated from German) and included below are two resources: An essay by a colleague who runs community seminars which provides some background about the author, and a link to a very interesting interview with the writer.
The essay is attached.

The interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr6kBmAUic4

Of the three texts, I found the third work by Erpenbeck the most riveting. It will be challenging for students at the IB level. However, there are surely other novels in the Prescribed Reading List that are equally challenging and many of you have succeeded in exploring them in a productive way with your students.

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