Migratory Modernisms: Novel Homelands in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane

Susan Stanford Friedman


This essay argues that Monica Ali’s novel, Brick Lane (2003), imports elements of Joyce’s Ulysses and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway into its narrative as a form of cultural translation that inserts a contemporary story of Bangladeshi migration into the tradition of the 20th century British/Irish novel. The clue that unravels the connections is the name of Chanu’s boss, Mr. Dalloway. The numerous subsequent echoes of the precursor texts (Chanu as Bloom; Nazneen as Clarissa) are not instances of the empire writing back against colonial dominance, or belatedness, or post/colonial mimicry. Ali’s transplantations of Joyce’s Dublin and Woolf’s London into the migrant enclave of post-1970 Brick Lane perform a “translation” in which the “origin” and “target” texts are linked yet remain incommensurable. Like migration itself, this cultural translation is portrayed as a site of creativity that legitimates the new while it registers the connection/disconnection between the old and the new. Ali’s intertextual strategy places Brick Lane at the centre, not the periphery of modern British literature.

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