Immigrant stories, or traveller’s tales, have been told for ages. From Homer’s Odyssey, to Dante’s travels across the various other-worlds, to Pilgrim’s Progress, to Michener’s tales of mass immigration, to the tales of displacements taking place after wars and ethnic conflicts, to the recent flood of “Asian immigrant comes to North America” books, we have been engaged, entertained, educated and enlightened with these “quest” stories and novels.
Writers who have never had the immigrant experience have also delved into their ancestral pasts to bring us stories of their forebears who first crossed oceans and founded new homes. There is a parallel with the story of life in these tales, where every day is a new journey that holds surprises, reversals and rewards. But have we had enough? This stuff is so close to reality and reality has always been hard to stomach, especially for this generation that is only licking the dregs of the rewards of the previous one due to a flattened, connected and decaying planet. The immigrant story makes us remember, not forget.
Bring on the entertainment they say – give us vampires and goblins and magicians and super-heroes. Give us situations so unreal that they can be safely relegated to fantasy and escapism. Throw in some graphics, sound and movement, and animate the experience; get us into the story and let us become a character, let us choose the ending – better yet, make it into a video game or a movie and we might be able to palate it. And above all, make us laugh. Make us forget.
Being an immigrant and writing what I know, and wanting to cover a part of history and culture that has been somewhat underrepresented in literature, I have frequently returned to the immigrant story over these last dozen years, producing three novels and many short stories in that genre. It is a journey into memory and into acceptance, sometimes painful, sometimes rewarding, but always enlightening. However, I am finding the demographics of those who read these stories to be shifting and are now found in two segments (a) those in my cohort or older who are trying to remember, and (b) the very young -teenagers - who are looking for clues to their origins. The middle tier has vanished – they either do not read anymore or read only to escape or are playing those video games - and I would so like to see them return.
As I get my next collection of immigrant stories, Paradise Revisited, ready for mass consumption (or should that be selective consumption?) I have to ask myself whether this will be the last in this genre and whether I too should wise up (grow up?) and move on to new fields. Wipe out memory and create fantasy. Or write about what happens when the traveller has put down his roots and travels no more. Will stories of fantasy or of stasis be as interesting? Will my heart and soul be engaged in this new crop of “entertainments?”
An interesting inflection point in the writing journey, and indeed, the journey of life...