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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Clandestine Mediterranean: Arab-African Migrant Literature

  • Author(s): Al-Mousawi, Nahrain
  • Advisor(s): Hochberg, Gil
  • Makdisi, Saree
  • et al.

Clandestine migration from North Africa across the Mediterranean has been explored widely as a topic in the fields of social science in the past decade, but representations of undocumented migration in literature have not been subject to significant attention and analysis. Moreover, in comparison to French, Italian, or Spanish literature, Arabic clandestine migrant literature has barely been subject to recognition or discussion. Even though this dissertation includes some Anglophone literature, by and large, its main attention to Arabic literature addresses the dearth in scholarship on contemporary Arabic literary representations of clandestine migration from Egypt and Morocco, as well as trans-migration from sub-Saharan Africa. My analysis of literature charting journeys from the Mediterranean's southern shores and rendering clandestine existence in the global North attempts to contribute to not only the discourse on migration literature but on conceptualizations of the Mediterranean as both a dividing border and unifying contact zone, especially vital to the contemporary recurrence of the study of seas and particularly the Mediterranean. My discussion encompasses Arabic literature by Moroccan author Rachid Nini and Egyptian author Khaled Al-Khameesy, as well as Anglophone literature by Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami and Nigerian-American author Sefi Atta.

Themes of invisibility, nostalgia, transience, paralysis, mobility and immobility in secret Mediterranean border crossings are analyzed alongside themes traditionally capturing a mythic Mediterranean space, like cosmopolitanism, cultural interaction, and adventure. I explore and demarcate the dual imaginaries of the Mediterranean space and attempt to retrieve migrant narrative along these meeting points and dividing lines. Because the dissertation attempts to address an imbalance in the research literature by focusing literary analysis on Arabic and Anglophone African narratives and poetry that chart migration from the homeland, across the Mediterranean frontier, to the European shore, it focuses on journey narratives, which often show migrant characters representing an interdependent relationship of uneven development that connects the northern and southern shore. Thus, this dissertation reflects the authors' investment in how distinct nations map the journey across the Mediterranean, casting the literature as both national and diasporic, emergent from and part of the African Mediterranean rather than about it.

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