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Cowart, David. Trailing Clouds - Immigrant Fiction in Contemporary America. Cornell University Press, 2006.

249 pp. Index. £13.50. ISBN: 978-0-8014-7287-9

Reviewed by Dr Teodora Domotor, University of Surrey

Book jacket

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This brilliantly written and well-constructed book sets out to examine the works of immigrant writers in the contemporary United States, their  great contributions to shaping American fiction and  the meanings of Americanness, for example, the ‘All American’ citizen.. The introductory section of Trailing Clouds provides the reader with the focal point of the author's investigation in a clear, direct manner, with Cowart highlighting how  American national identity is constructed in relation to foreign yet assimilatable identities, and  the first American writers were themselves European immigrants. The portrayal of America in early literature was often based  on how European settlers saw the New World, which helped to  shape the country's image, values and future development. Cowart's study concentrates on the contemporary immigrant imagination as witness to postmodern America in works by Bharati Mukherjee, Ursula Hegi, Jerzy Kosinski, Jamaica Kincaid, Cristina Garcia, Edwidge Danticat, Wendy Law-Yone, Mylène Dressler, Lan Cao, Chang-rae Lee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Nora Okja Keller.

The book is divided into ten chapters focusing on  interlinking themes such as the formal and temporal elements of storytelling by émigrés, their physical and mental struggles to succeed in the new country, the emergence of an exilic self, the cultural shifts that enable immigrant writers to narrate  the old country, rather than providing idealized stories of  their American experiences, and the portrayal of the immigrant as adolescent.

One of the most interesting analyses in Trailing Clouds appears in the chapter about  Jamaica Kincaid's novella, Lucy. Cowart argues that the disorientation and displacement  the immigrant experiences resembles  that of the teenager trying to find his or her way in the adult world, and  an alien on an unfamiliar yet keenly observed planet. Kincaid's West Indian protagonist, young Lucy, is subjected to this ‘alien’ experience and, as Cowart rightly points it out, she sees continuity between the British and American empires and their patronising behaviours and attitudes towards colonised subjects.  Moreover, anger, irritation, and a desire to escape from home, family and politics characterise adolescence, which is how Cowart also understands Lucy's experiences as a migrant in America.

Trailing Clouds represents an original critical guide which also provides comprehensive, careful readings. The booksucceeds in demonstrating the victimisation of immigrants in America, as well as their appreciation of their new home once they have managed to assimilate more into society.

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