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Writing the Translingual Life: Recent Memoirs and Auto-Fiction by Russian-American and Russian-German Novelists

  • Author(s): Wanner, Adrian
  • et al.

Published Web Location

https://doi.org/10.5070/L27122756
Abstract

One of the more remarkable developments in translingual literature over the past decade has been the rise of a new wave of Soviet-born authors writing in languages other than their native Russian. Autobiographical elements have always figured prominently in their fiction, and some of these authors have recently crossed the boundary into non-fiction by writing memoirs. The process of writing in a second language about becoming a writer in a second language gives these books a particular self-referential quality. This essay surveys the latest memoirs and auto-fiction (published 2012-14) of five Soviet-born immigrant novelists in the U.S. and Germany—Gary Shteyngart, Lena Gorelik, Lara Vapnyar, Olga Grjasnowa, and Maxim Shrayer.  It argues that constructing a narrative of the self for a foreign audience serves as a crucial step in the gestation of a translingual novelist. This narrative urge often predates the actual mastery of the new language. Rather than as the result of an already-achieved acquisition of a new linguistic medium, telling one’s story in a non-native language emerges as a means toward language learning and integration.

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