Unsettling the Bildungsroman

Reading Contemporary Ethnic American Women’s Fiction

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What kinds of uncertainties and desires do generic issues evoke? How can we account for the continuing hold of the Bildungsroman as a model of analysis? Unsettling the Bildungsroman: Reading Contemporary Ethnic American Women’s Fiction combines genre and cultural theory and offers a cross-ethnic comparative approach to the tradition of the female novel of development and the American coming-of-age narrative. Examining closely the work of Jamaica Kincaid, Sandra Cisneros, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Audre Lorde, the chapters foreground processes of constructing an alternative “art of living” which challenges the Bildungsroman’s drive for either assimilation or ethnic homogeneity and pushes for new configurations of ethnic and American female identity. Drawing on feminist/gender studies, psychoanalytic theory, translation theory, queer theory, and disability studies, the book provides a theoretically engaged rethinking of the Bildungsroman’s form and function. Addressing questions of aesthetics and politics, freedom and belonging, betrayal and responsibility, and tracing the Bildungsroman’s links with life-writing forms such as immigrant narrative, mother-daughter story, biomythography, and illness narrative, the study outlines the various ways in which the novel of individual development becomes an appropriate site for the negotiation of several enduring and contentious tensions in ethnic American writing. Of potential interest to scholars of American literature, but also ethnic, feminist and postcolonial literatures, and to students of American literature and culture, the book demonstrates the Bildungsroman’s ongoing relevance and expanded capacity of representation in an ethnic American and postcolonial context.
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Review Quote

"Unsettling the Bildungsroman presents in a lucid and well sustained manner alternative stories of growing up and belonging that ultimately rewrite 'Americanness' and challenge the idea of finished Bildung."
- Chrysavgi Papayianni, European Journal of American Studies, 2012

"Bolaki brings into her book life-writing and narratives of trauma, illness, and death in order to reinvigorate the debate around the Bildungsroman."
- Ania Spyra, New West Indian Guide, 2013, Vol 87, pp.3-4

"Bolaki reaffirms the Bildungsroman’s enduring viability, versatility, and socio-political function. This is an important task at a time when 'being American' so often involves building walls, closing borders, and policing the bodies of others."
- Myra Mendible, Postcolonial Tekst, 2012, Vol 7, p.2

Table of contents

Acknowledgements
Introduction
Female travelling in the West/Indies: trauma and bound motion in Jamaica Kincaid’s At the Bottom of the River and Lucy
“The mestiza way”: a Bildung of the borderlands in Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street
“It translated well”: the promise and the perils of translation in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior
“In the name of grand asymmetries”: body Bildung in Audre Lorde’s work
Postscript: temporary stopovers and new departures
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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