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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Green-Card American Fiction: Naturalizing Novels by Visiting Authors

  • Author(s): Abele, Elizabeth
  • et al.

This essay examines four contemporary novels written by Commonwealth authors who lived in the United States: DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little, Salman Rushdie’s Fury, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, and Zadie Smith's On Beauty. These novels offer critiques of American culture, as well as asking how they define the borders of the American novel in a global literary society. When non-American Anglophone authors write novels set in the United States, it raises the question of what defines a novel written in English as “American” as opposed to “British” or “Commonwealth,” particularly when many Anglophone authors avail themselves of residential opportunities in the United States. The question becomes particularly interesting when these US-based novels are recognized by the Man Booker Committee for Commonwealth fiction, as was Vernon God Little.

These four demonstrate the fuzzy distinction between an American novel and expatriate fiction, particularly when the novel only contains American characters, with little non-American perspective apparent within the narrative. So are these novelists writing from the community of their passports, their present country of residence, or as temporary/virtual “Americans”? Are these novels an external critique of American culture–or are these novels part of an American literary tradition of social examination?

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