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