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Boundaries – Voices


Studying Postcolonial Literature: a Work in Progress

by Chiara Giuliani (University of St. Andrews)

A few years ago during my Erasmus year in London, at UCL, I signed up for a course entitled Italian migration literature. I knew what it was about because I had taken an exam in Italy on a similar subject; I had found it so interesting but at the same time so limited by the restraints of the Italian educational system, which imposes a limited number of credits and consequently a limited chance for both professors and students to examine a specific subject in depth. I wanted to broaden my knowledge of that topic. Reading and analysing the novels and the short stories by the authors known as migrant writers, I was fascinated by the ability to communicate that these authors displayed in their works.

In addition, what attracted my attention so strongly was that there was so much to read; I felt so ignorant about a part of history, namely Italian colonialism, that I sensed an urgent need to recover it. This topic was a special one for me. I had the chance to read a collection of letters that my grandfather, a private in the Italian army, wrote from Libya. Unfortunately, that was my only knowledge of this part of history, as the only few times that the Italian colonial past had been mentioned during my school experience was through clichés like: «there is no need to waste time studying the Italian colonialism as it was an unsuccessful experience with irrelevant consequences. It is better to carry on with the program». Migrant writers were offering more pieces to complete this puzzle; this emotional link pushed me toward an understanding that I could not find anywhere else. This is maybe the first reason why at the beginning I was so interested in this literary genre. However, the situation changed quickly because, beyond the historical and personal features, I started enjoying them as a whole: the plots were entertaining and the style fluent and lucid. Additionally, this kind of topic is strongly related to present Italian reality which is an essential feature of a literary work for me. For all these reasons I decided that once back in Italy, I had to write my final dissertation about migration literature and specifically about writers who came from Somalia.

Consequently, my Master’s dissertation was about Igiaba Scego, Cristina Ubax Ali-Farah and Shirin Ramzanali Fazel. While I was writing it, I had the impression that it was not enough; that I needed to read more, to learn more, to write and say more. In fact, along with the three writers that I had decided to include in my dissertation, I was looking at authors like Ghermandi, Kuruvilla and Lakhous. Reading their novels was a constant discovery; the characters were full of personality and the plots offered countless cues for further research. I could not get enough of those stories and there were so many ideas that I wanted to develop; the only way to pursue this goal was to carry on with my research. From this awareness it became even more evident that the only possible choice for me was to start a PhD. I actually did not spend a lot of time thinking whether to stay in Italy or to try a further experience in the UK: I decided that it was the right moment to undertake this experience and to do it abroad. I started my PhD in September 2011 in Bristol, where I spent an extremely stimulating year, and last September I moved to St. Andrews.

My project has moved on a lot from my Master’s dissertation and I am now working, broadly speaking, on the perception and representation of space in migrant literature. More specifically, I look at how the city and particular spaces in it have been changing in recent decades, after the arrival of the most substantial wave of migration. The lens through which I analyse this issue is a literary one, the way the city is described in the novels I plan to examine. Consequently my project draws on different perspectives, from that of postcolonial theory to those of cultural geography and social anthropology. I am analysing several novels by different authors. However, La mia casa è dove sono by Igiaba Scego, Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore in Piazza Vittorio and Divorzio all’Islamica a viale Marconi both by Amara Lakhous[1], can be seen as the primary sources of my research. This choice is due to the fact that the focus of my work will be mainly on the city of Rome and the texts I have mentioned offer me a wide range of descriptions and information about this city. My study focalises on both public and private spaces. For instance, I am focusing on the extremely interesting space of the quartiere in particular of the Esquilino, and how it has modified its layout in recent years. I also look at national newspaper articles, comparing them to the description provided by the novels. As can be easily imagined, the results of this comparison are frequently contradictory. Using the same methodology, I am now looking at Termini station, contrasting the emphasis given to it in the novels to the often negative depiction, as a criminal den, suggested by Italian newspapers. It is, in my opinion, noteworthy to underline how different those portraits of exactly the same spaces are, and to try when possible, to identify the reasons for those differences. In Scontro di civiltà, for example, the carer Maria Cristina clearly underscores the vital importance of Termini where she goes to spend some quality time with other members of the Peruvian community; whereas, the Italian perspective, which emerges from the newspapers, interprets Termini as a place of “bivacco” and “degrado”,[2] where criminals, illegal migrants and homeless spend their time.

Plainly, this is still a work in progress, but the material collected and analysed so far is utterly stimulating and my keenness for literature and for reading in general is making this experience exceptionally motivating

[1] Scego I., La mia casa è dove sono (Milan: Rizzoli, 2010); Lakhous A., Divorzio all’islamica a viale Marconi (Rome: edizioni e/o); Id., Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore in Piazza Vittorio (Rome: edizioni e/o, 2004).

[2] As it is e.g. in R. Frignani, ‘Maxi-operazione contro il degrado. Cinquanta persone fermate a Termini’, Il Corriere della Sera, sez. Roma, 11 Aug 2010. (

Chiara Giuliani completed her Master’s degree in Comparative Literature and Postcolonial Cultures at the University of Bologna in 2010. She is currently a PhD student at the University of St. Andrews working on Italian postcolonial literature and the issue of space. Her thesis aims to look at some selected Italian postcolonial novels and at relevant articles published in the Italian press, and it focuses on the transformation of Italian cities in the light of contemporary migration. Her research interests comprise postcolonial theories, Italian contemporary literature and cultural geography.


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This entry was posted on July 29, 2013 by in Voices.
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