r2p and the Novel: The Trope of the Abandoned Refugee Child in Stella Leventoyannis Harvey’s The Brink of Freedom

In: Global Responsibility to Protect
Erin Goheen Glanville Simon Fraser University, Canada,

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The abandoned refugee child is a powerful yet simplistic cultural trope that can inspire intense, sympathetic reactions to asylum seekers but cannot sustain that sympathy in more complex contexts. In contrast, literary novels unpack the intricacies, details, and nuances of refugee children’s experiences, serving as a reliable representation of reality and a winsome pedagogical tool for increasing curiosity and attention to refugee children. As cultural pedagogy, refugee fiction promotes public discussions around the complex situations of vulnerable children, educates readers about sovereignty as responsibility, and thus mobilises and nuances the political will to fulfill a nation’s responsibility to protect. Literary novels leverage a rhetoric that is concrete, polyphonous, interlocking, and intimate. This paper uses the example of Stella Leventoyannis Harvey’s Canadian novel The Brink of Freedom, which embeds complex, even contradictory, representations of R2P issues into the particular details of a displaced child’s perspective. The pedagogical work of this example of literary fiction is accomplished through the differing perspectives embodied concurrently by sympathetic characters, the concrete details of one child’s deeply intimate moments, the central metonym of the child/caregiver as the citizen/nation, and the contrasting first person child narrator. In a highly polarised global context that appears to be moving towards protectionist policies, this kind of local, creative cultural intervention can feed an alternative social imaginary that prioritises interdependence over independence for the health of everyone.

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