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A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction

A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction

A deep exploration of the ways in which postcolonial narrative fiction both acts on and is acted upon by the modern world.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

October 2009
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208 pages | 6 x 9 |

Why are so many people attracted to narrative fiction? How do authors in this genre reframe experiences, people, and environments anchored to the real world without duplicating "real life"? In which ways does fiction differ from reality? What might fictional narrative and reality have in common—if anything?

By analyzing novels such as Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace, Zadie Smith's White Teeth, and Hari Kunzru's The Impressionist, along with selected Latino comic books and short fiction, this book explores the peculiarities of the production and reception of postcolonial and Latino borderland fiction. Frederick Luis Aldama uses tools from disciplines such as film studies and cognitive science that allow the reader to establish how a fictional narrative is built, how it functions, and how it defines the boundaries of concepts that appear susceptible to limitless interpretations.

Aldama emphasizes how postcolonial and Latino borderland narrative fiction authors and artists use narrative devices to create their aesthetic blueprints in ways that loosely guide their readers' imagination and emotion. In A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction, he argues that the study of ethnic-identified narrative fiction must acknowledge its active engagement with world narrative fictional genres, storytelling modes, and techniques, as well as the way such fictions work to move their audiences.

  • Introduction: Putting the World Back into Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Literature
  • Chapter One: A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction
  • Chapter Two: Putting the Fiction Back into Arundhati Roy
  • Chapter Three: History as Handmaiden to Fiction in Amitav Ghosh
  • Chapter Four: Fictional World Making in Zadie Smith and Hari Kunzru
  • Chapter Five: This Is Your Brain on Latino Comics
  • Chapter Six: Reading the Latino Borderland Short Story
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index

Frederick Luis Aldama is Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of English at the Ohio State University


As a Chicano teen far from homelands (Mexico and California) growing up in a 1980s London stretched large with all walks of life I found myself irresistibly drawn to literature. With the guidance of a gracious librarian and an Afro-Caribbean British-identifying English teacher, I indulged in the inexhaustible splendors, merriment, and knowledge served up by the likes of Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Max Frisch, Hanif Kureishi, Elena Garro, Juan Goytisolo, and Salman Rushdie, among many others. I was living and going to school in a part of London filling to the brim with peoples from the Caribbean, Pakistan, India, and Africa. I was living in a time when many "postcolonial" authors were fast becoming visible in their creative reimagining of such a metropolitan space.

This was my introduction to the world of literature—and to "world literature." At this stage, such readings were absolutely self-interested and self-absorbed, drawn to the narratives because of a strong identification with the characters and their settings. I was filled with questions about my various experiences of dislocation (Mexico City to Sacramento to London), and many of these authors seemed to imagine characters and worlds that did not so much provide answers as provide some kind of tellurian foothold.

At this point, too, after returning again and again to certain authors I began to wonder what it was about them—and not others—that had me going back for more. It surely was not that their novels and short stories captivated me because they mirrored my personal experience and that of my classmates and friends while schooling ourselves in the racially mixed inner-city London. After all, how much more different could García Márquez's Macondo be from Frisch's Zurich or Kureishi's South London? And yet I loved them all.

It was only once I set foot on the University of California Berkeley campus as an undergraduate that I began to more formally seek answers to questions such as: Why my attraction—along with so many others'—to narrative fiction generally? How did my favorite authors reframe and make interesting experiences and people and environments anchored one way or another to the real world but at the same time patently not duplicating "real life"? In which way (ontologically, epistemologically, functionally) was this fiction I loved to read different from reality? What might fictional narrative and reality have in common—if anything? What can fictional narrative in the form of literature do (and not do) in the real world? Did these questions already have an answer? If so, where?

In this period and more so later, in graduate school, I identified the focus of study that would further allow me to teach and research so-identified Latino borderland and South Asian postcolonial literature and film as they engage with other literary and filmic traditions. In my first book, Postethnic Narrative Criticism (2003), I critique the "locational" theories that conflate narrative fiction—and cultural artifacts in general—with reality outside the text, choosing as my site of critical analysis the storytelling mode known as magical realism. In my second book, to a certain extent a theoretical sequel, titled Brown on Brown: Chicano Representations of Gender, Sexuality, and Ethnicity (2005), I build on and complicate this argument by investigating the ways in which race and outlawed sexuality have been theorized in postcolonial and ethnic queer theory. Herein I will share with you a third installment in this unofficial trilogy: A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction.

The premise of A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction shares much with those of my other works: that the study of ethnic-identified narrative fiction (novels, short stories, and comic books, in this volume) must acknowledge its active engagement with world narrative fictional genres, storytelling modes, and techniques. Such study must acknowledge as well the contextual and pragmatic dimensions of this fiction—the existence of real-life authors and artists doing the creating and real-life readers and viewers doing the engaging—and acknowledge that while author and reader, artist and viewer are as unique as the full and limitless range of experience our world allows, as a species we share a deep, universal capacity for emotion and cognition.

To explore (and test) this premise as fully as possible, I focus on the following: style, genre, and the multislant filter in Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, the function of history in Amitav Ghosh's novel The Glass Palace, narrative universals and cultural particulars in Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Hari Kunzru's The Impressionist, the interplay of the visual and verbal double narrator in Latino comic books, and finally, the significance of peritext, point of view, temporal order, and place in shaping our emotional and ethical engagement with characters and their worlds in the short fiction of Luis Rodriguez and Dagoberto Gilb.

All of the narrative fiction I explore—and to which I refer in theme, setting, characters, and so forth as "postcolonial" (South Asian or Afro-Caribbean British) and Latino "borderland"—include within their contents details, to a greater or lesser degree of specificity, that speak to cultural particulars as well as formal details (genre, point of view, style, and mode, for instance) that announce an affiliation with and inscription within world literary crossings. Indeed, as with writers and artists generally, those studied here read other authors' work—proximate and distant in time and space—to create new narrative fictional utterances in ways that vitally engage readers and viewers close to home and the world over.

This is not to suggest that in this book I willfully neglect the site-specific grids of history, politics, and culture that uniquely inflect such narratives—those and other features are perhaps necessarily textured in all fiction and therefore appear in my discussions of theme, characterization, and plot. Nor do I willfully seek to sidestep consideration of the material conditions that affect the production, circulation, translation in some cases, and consumption of postcolonial and Latino borderland narrative fictions. The aim is rather to place the emphasis where I believe it rightly belongs: on the literature as such, from the point of view of the peculiarities of its production (material and formal) and its reception (emotive and cognitive).

The overall thrust of this book is to explore how "postcolonial" authors such as Roy, Kunzru, Smith, and Ghosh as well as "borderland" writers Gilb and Rodriguez and Chicano comic book author-artists Laura Molina, Rhode Montijo, Rafael Navarro, Javier Hernandez, Los Bros Hernandez, and Wilfred Santiago, among others, use the techniques available within their storytelling media to organize, frame, and richly texture characters, times, and places. I explore how they infuse a unique, engaging, and responsive aesthetic into their narrative fictions.

To mention aesthetics alongside postcolonial and Latino borderland novels, short stories, and comic books might appear as an appeal to some old-school evaluation of inherently good and bad literature. While I do consider there to be poorly conceived and written (and illustrated) postcolonial and borderland fiction, this is not why I wave the aesthetic flag. Rather, I consider "aesthetic" a useful term to identify a function of art generally: how reframing an object (the literary transfiguration of real subjects, real experiences, and actual events that make up everyday reality) can be engaging, generate emotions, suggest thoughts, produce moral conflicts, and even reach out toward and shed light upon the world in which we live. The tasks at hand are to study the aesthetic function of postcolonial and Latino borderland narrative fictions and to avoid confusing their realism (their generic mode) for reality.


While I use the terms "postcolonial" and "borderland" as tags to identify themes (dislocation and racism, say), settings (such as London and East Los Angeles), and characters (South Asian British and Chicano, for instance) in the novels, short stories, and comic books of this study, I by no means want to slip down that slope of category confusion. Postcolonial and borderland are categories originated and driven by academia, media, and marketplace. They are tags that help get books published and sold as well as to advance careers. I therefore use the terms as a shorthand to describe fictional narratives that include themes, settings, and characters described above. I say "include themes" because a novel like Kunzru's The Impressionist could be read as thematizing colonial and postcolonial crises of identity in India, the evils of global capitalism, or unrequited love.

Today, however, the production and marketing of postcolonial and borderland literature follows two paths: the degree of exoticism ascribed to themes, settings, and characters; and the degree of political value ascribed to themes, settings, and characters in terms of opposition to colonialism, imperialism, and the like. One such tack that scholars and media critics follow is to identify a postcolonial or borderland protein sequence in the DNA, so to speak, of the fiction and of those creating it. If you are born Chicano, you and only you can write a borderland novel. While John Rechy resisted writing about Chicanos in most of his fiction, few other Chicano authors can say the same. When a "postcolonial" author like Hanif Kureishi chooses to write not about the South Asian British Londoner experience but rather that of middle-class white people, he has betrayed his genetic make-up. A case in point: when he published the middle-class, nonracially marked novel Intimacy, readers in London threw up their arms in anger. They wanted more Buddha of Suburbia. (For more on this controversy see my interview with Kureishi in "The Pound and the Fury.")

Another consequence is that scholars and critics alike either programmatically declare that we must only read a given novel within its own native tradition or accuse us of misreading a novel because we failed to do so. (See Elleke Boehmer's Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation.) Of course, we know that authors are much more than their biographies and their fictions much more than postcolonial or borderland protein sequences; if it were not so, we would not have Raja Rao hailed as the great novelist of India, knowing of his taste for French wine and that he wrote most of his fictions in a thirteenth-century castle in the Alps.

Likewise, there is a slip from "postcolonial" and Latino "borderland" as classifications (and rather loose and baggy ones at that) to worldviews—knowledge systems, even. So, "postcolonial" and "borderland" express localized knowledge systems (Nahua, say) and stand against and resist dominant Western thinking. For instance, in The Postcolonial Body in Queer Space and Time, Rebecca Fine Romanow discusses how The Buddha of Suburbia and other works reveal "nonnormative spatialities and temporalities [of the diasporic Other and how they] dissolve and disrupt the constraints of colonial or national history in order to construct and situate the present" (15). Others like Walter Mignolo identify a borderland, mestizo gnosis resistant to empire-driven knowledge systems. The borderland as expression of a mestizo knowledge system and essence offers Rafael Pérez-Torres the "boundless possibility" of reading into many texts how they destabilize "racial and gender hierarchies [but] with a sense of constraint" (3). For Ana María Manzanas and Jesús Benito, borderland fictions—or in their words, "border dwellers"—perform "concrete acts of mediation" and promote "conversation across difference" (3). In Crossing Borderlands Andrea A. Lunsford and Lahoucine Ouzgane declare in the introduction to their edited volume how postcolonial and borderland narrative fiction, with its themes of dislocation and resistance and with its hybrid characters, will liberate students and teachers from regulatory systems such as rules of grammar, Western canonical reading assignments, and more generally, society's discursive structures that contain and control racialized subjects. (See also Roberto Ignacio Díaz's Unhomely Rooms, Azade Seyhan's Writing Outside the Nation, and Bishnupriay Ghosh's When Borne Across.)

The net effect: authors like Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, Hanif Kureishi, Salman Rushdie are served up by academics and mainstream critics as representing the dislocated experience, the troubled private identity that disrupts the nation-state—the public realm of the political. Doing so risks abstracting into oblivion the real and urgent need of oppressed and exploited working people worldwide and in each country to build the political party that is necessary for them (for us) to further their (our) struggle against oppression and exploitation. Neil Larsen aptly comments that postcolonial criticism's approach promises "cultural revolution without social revolution" ("DetermiNation," 154). It also ignores historical fact. If more than 80 percent of the world's population is "formerly, recently, or still colonized by Europe," as Patrick Williams notes in "Post-Colonialism and Narrative" (452), then nearly the entire planet would fall under the category of "postcolonial."

And the near-total focus on issues of identity and Otherness (or alterity) in postcolonial and borderland narrative fiction misses a crucial fact: that identity and Otherness are "relevant to all narratives," as Monica Fludernik remarks in her essay "Identity/Alterity" (543, her emphasis). If readers do not have something to identify as different from something else—a character with traits that differ from another's—then in the best of cases the fiction leaves us nonplussed, and at worst we simply do not read. Indeed, identity and Otherness are less tied to a postcolonial and borderland worldview than they are an epistemological necessity. We cannot talk about color if there are not at least two colors. If all in the world is gray, then the category "color" would not exist; it can only exist if we can identify red as different from black, and so on. For there to be identity, there must be Otherness—always. When a postcolonial or Latino borderland author introduces very little identity in his or her characters and fictional worlds—and there is a seeming trend to increasingly abstract character, time, and place—we are left with less than zero, something akin to the Harlequin romance novel in which all is abstracted from time and place.

Either way we look at it, what happens is that the richness and complexity (if such is the case) of postcolonial and borderland narrative fiction are reduced to a simplistic evaluation: Does it meet the criteria of representing, say, dislocation and a resistant bicultural identity, or not?

The criteria for analyzing postcolonial and Latino borderland literature tend, therefore, to reflect exorbitant claims about what narrative fiction—and cultural phenomena generally—can do. Common sense, however, quickly tells us otherwise. We know "postcolonial" and "borderland" to be terms used to very generally describe the themes, settings (time and place), and characters of a certain number of fictional narratives. And their deployment has not and will not alter fundamentally our selves and our world. If I self-identify as a borderland subject, I do not change fundamentally who I am as a subject. I am still the individual, Frederick Luis Aldama. I am still a social and biological being informed by a shared genetic and evolutionary history with all of humanity—a single unit or species and a singular part of nature; 99.9 percent of my DNA is identical code to all others of my species. So while I differ from another in three million separate places inside each cell of his body, this one-tenth of 1 percent difference between myself and another is not because I identify as a postcolonial or borderland subject nor because I write and analyze fiction labeled as such. So while we are all unique members of our species, we are unique only in the way we use our commonly evolved universal biological endowment in our long history of transforming nature and its transforming us in return.


Categories like postcolonial and borderland can be useful (to a degree) as a way to delimit the themes, settings, and characters in our study of certain fictional narratives. However, as categories used to create "special" standards whereby we judge the quality of such fictions by equally "special" standards, they fail. In Native American Fiction: A User's Manual David Treuer nicely teases out the problem with his discussion of the triumphant reception and then harsh rejection by American Indian scholars of the novel The Education of Little Tree. Rather than focus on the controversy—that the author, allegedly Native American and writing under the pseudonym of Forrest Carter, was a Ku Klux Klan leader implicated in the castration of an African American in Alabama—Treuer is interested more in "how we (readers) are trained to interpret Native American literature. We are trained to interpret the genre the same way we were encouraged to 'read' the exhibit of Native art at the Weisman Museum: with our hearts, not with our heads" (163). This is a consequence of using identity politics and "perceived 'authenticity'" (ibid.) as the standard for judging the fiction.

It is not on the identity of the author we should focus nor the postcolonial or borderland genetic sequencing in the fiction, but rather how effective the author is at using language and technique to invent his or her storyworlds. Even if their ambitions might be grander, those authors who rest heavily on clichés of identity—the mystically inclined, "authentic," ancestral-rooted, borderland lesbian mestiza described in Anzaldúa's Borderlands, for instance—create Kleenex narratives: once we finish (if we finish), we find the nearest garbage can.

Meera Syal's Anita and Me opens:

I do not have many memories of my very early childhood, apart from the obvious ones, of course. You know, my windswept, bewildered parents in their dusty Indian village garb standing in the open doorway of a 747, blinking back tears of gratitude and heartbreak as the fog cleared to reveal a sign they had been waiting for, dreaming of, the sign planted in the tarmac and emblazoned in triumphant hues of red, blue and white, the sign that simply said, WELCOME TO BRITAIN. (9)

Syal's narrator is smarter than this hokum, however. Two paragraphs later, she tells us,

Of course, this is the alternative history I trot out in job interview situations or, once or twice, to impress middle-class white boys sniffing round, excited by the thought of wearing a colonial maiden as a trinket on their arm. My earliest memory, in fact, is of the first time I understood the punchline to a joke. (9-10)

Syal invents a narrator who from the get-go pokes fun at and deflates this marketing and myth-making material of Otherness.

The themes, settings, and characters in and of themselves, then, are not the problem. It is the publishers, scholars, mainstream critics, and authors who ascribe material existence to only themes, settings, and characters out of time and place. The theme of dislocation, for instance, can be modified depending on historical and geographic circumstance and as it suits the imagination and needs of the author; the theme has a history and evolves, changes guises and forms, and so on. However, when one ascribes a material existence to a theme—when one hypostatizes, say, dislocation—the scholar, publisher, critic give it an existence in itself, above and beyond history. The theme of dislocation is no longer modified according to time and place but becomes an eternal state—an archetype. This is why a serious author like Dagoberto Gilb calls most fiction he reads "tract"—because it is "rigormortised by some transparent issue, about as inconspicuous as a banner" (Gritos, 146).

We see this tendency with the hypostatizing of the myth of Aztlán during the late 1960s and early 1970s Chicano movement. Chicano scholars and authors alike took a pre-Hispanic theme not only as a writerly constraint but as a way of existing; incorporating the myth had its consequences. The designation of a utopian theme—that we will one day be free of exploitation and oppression in a recuperated, spiritualized Aztlán—as a real, obtainable material goal serves the interests of the bourgeoisie: instead of organizing and striking for better labor conditions, one simply had to believe that out of the thin air of the page this utopia would arrive. Once again Gilb offers pointed insight: "If you want to be The Leader of the People, if you want to be a Saint, if you want to be The Guru, please don't pretend to be first of all a writer" (Gritos, 146).

How do we avoid taking such missteps? I suggest the following seven steps.

First: We need to develop a set of tools that will allow us to consider "postcolonial" and "borderland" narrative fiction as part and parcel of "world literature." Moreover, we develop an approach that demonstrates how world literature is the sum of its postcolonial and borderland fictions.

Second: We need to keep history centrally in mind. Just as historical circumstance and the imaginative needs of an author shape, reshape, and shape again the theme of dislocation, for example, so too must we consider how history has shaped those so-identified postcolonial and borderland authors and their affiliative "ethnic" or other groups. In the United States, Chicanos are today less identifiable as an ethnic group separate from the "mainstream" than during the time of the Chicano movement. In the late 1960s, Chicanos forged a unity as an ethnic group with a shared cultural heritage to assert the right for representation in the United States. Today, Chicanos and Latinos are increasingly part of mainstream—even holding high positions such as Alberto Gonzalez as former U.S. attorney general and Jose Rodriguez as former director of the National Clandestine Service (D/NCS) of the CIA. The historical circumstances and particularities of Chicanos in the 1960s were such that a Chicano like Gonzalez, who ultimately "legitimized" torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, would never have sat in such a high office. Today, there is much more integration of Chicanos into the mainstream. That is, there is a flow from the particular (Chicano as different) to the general; like the Irish, Russian, Italian, and Jewish ethnic groups before us, tomorrow we will simply be a part of the general. Under capitalism, we see this mainstreaming of Chicanos as a corruption of Chicanos to do the odious, despicable work of U.S. capitalist imperialism. Along with this mainstreaming is the eventual loss over a couple of generations of Spanish as a natal tongue.

Third: We need to understand that the vast majority of the fiction written by postcolonial and borderland authors is written in English. Postcolonial and borderland literature is part and parcel of English-language literature. For example, the more borderland literature is written by third- and fourth-generation Chicanos, the less this literature will use the technique of code switching as a marker of ethnic identity. While much that we do in our everyday lives goes beyond language, "there is nothing beyond language in literature. Literature is language," David Treuer astutely remarks (76). We should therefore read, evaluate, and appreciate postcolonial and borderland literature as we would all other English-language writers. We do this because English is the language of everyday life for writers like Luis Rodriguez, Hanif Kureishi, Salman Rushdie, and Amitav Ghosh, among many others. We appraise their work alongside that of other writers in English also as a question of motivation. It is the case for many authors, from Joseph Conrad to Arundhati Roy, that writing in English was a conscious decision, that their stories could only be expressed using the instrument of English. And so our main consideration of postcolonial and borderland narrative fiction should be their use of language and its aesthetic devices—and here they are no different from any English-language authors. T. S. Eliot was born American and died British; Conrad was born Polish and died British. Just as with a Roy or a Ghosh, it is not the nationality that counts, it is the writer's use of language and aesthetics.

Fourth: We must decouple identity from the fictional world. While a Chicano author might feel comfortable drawing upon the particularities of the neighborhood or characters he or she knows well from proximate environs, this is not an obligation. If a Chicano author feels comfortable writing about a Chicano living in the United Kingdom, as does Daniel Olivas, or simply telling the story of an Anglo stockbroker working on Wall Street, he or she can do so. And today we have a whole series of so-identified postcolonial authors writing in English and writing in different parts of the world whose imagination has been captured by life in Asian countries. Tomorrow, these authors might be interested in something else altogether. However, what does matter is how well these authors put language to aesthetic use in giving shape to particulars of character, time, and space.

Fifth: We should attend to how postcolonial and Latino borderland themes reflect the particulars of character, time, and place (racism on the construction site in Dagoberto Gilb's stories set in El Paso in Woodcuts of Women, for instance) and trigger emotions that have contributed in many instances to our survival, evolution, and development. It is important for us also to keep in mind how emotions play a vital role in reinforcing our capabilities to feel empathy and to learn from another person's experiences. We can confidently say that emotions and the attendant rules of behavior toward others are very present in politics. The will to organize in opposition to the war in Iraq may be fueled by the sheer horror of the grief, the massacre of Iraqi children and adults, the destruction of homes, museums, schools, factories, and so on. This reaction may be followed by a deeper understanding of the oppressive and exploitive nature of capitalism and imperialism and the will to contribute to building trade unions and political parties capable of stopping all wars and of fighting capitalism. Thus, emotion can grow into an ethical stand that can in turn grow into a political one: organizing and mobilizing against capitalists as a class and against their instruments of oppression and exploitation. For the purposes of this book, however, I shall remain focused more on how our universal nature of emotions along with our universal fiction-making capacity has given rise to the development of narrative fiction in all historical periods and all over the world. In The Mind and Its Stories, Patrick Colm Hogan explains how storytelling works cross-culturally, how it affects and is affected by the emotions, and how it exhibits universal structures both from the point of view of the author/storyteller and the reader/audience.

Sixth: We need to distinguish the formal techniques used to convey the story's content, that is, to distinguish the two most general categories that constitute an inseparable unity in narrative fiction: form and content. This distinction does not mean identifying an essential postcolonial or borderland content, as already discussed. Nor for that matter does this mean identifying an essential postcolonial or borderland form. In his essay "On a Postcolonial Narratology" Gerald Prince attempts the latter when he considers how "narratological modalities" such as point of view, flashback, and mood might inflect and inform postcolonial concepts of "hybridity" and "migrancy" and vice versa in positing a "postcolonial narratology" (372). Rather, we distinguish form and content to bring them into our conversation about tools that will give a deeper and more informed knowledge of how they work in any postcolonial and borderland narrative fiction.

Seventh: We want to keep in mind that we have the capacity to transform the whole of nature, including its human component (human biological nature), and therefore we as a species are the sum total of all its makers—its poets and their creations (Greek poesis, the "maker"). One of our shared capacities is that of fiction making and fiction engaging. However, just as we share the universal capacity for language, the particular use and manifestation of this capacity is uniquely expressed. So while postcolonial and Latino borderland authors use the same cognitive and emotive architecture as we all do in our everyday activities—select, store, and access actual or virtual experiences; infer cause and effect; read from exterior gesture interior states of mind; feel and empathize—they know how to work within a given medium to cue and trigger like responses and activities in the readers of their fictional worlds, and each will do so uniquely. This is why we delight in recognizing that Roy and Ghosh variously and uniquely engage with narrative techniques and generic conventions also used before them—with completely different aims and effects—by Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, William Faulkner, George Eliot, and Stendhal, among many others. This is why we can step fully into the shoes of a character like Roy's Rahel, who grows up in Ayemenem (near Roy's hometown, Kerala, India) and feel the pains and pleasures of Ghosh's characters who inhabit Burma at the turn of the twentieth century or Luis Rodriguez's Chicanas who inhabit a contemporary East Los Angeles—and know all along that they are "only" fictional inventions, "lies." This is why we can imagine holographically spaces, events, and characters only minimally described or hinted at by a narrator. This is why we can experience certain ethical dilemmas. Finally, this is why each narrative fiction is itself and other in that it solicits individualized reactions and memories; one might imagine and connect with Roy's Ayemenem more forcefully than with Gilb's El Paso or Rodriguez's East L.A., if Roy's depiction of it has more cognitive and emotional resonances in one's mind.


Postcolonial and Latino borderland fiction continues to evolve and even have excellent products and results. But it can also have its most degenerate aesthetic manifestations. In postcolonial and borderland fictions we are seeing more and more abstraction of time and place typical of the romance and the formulaic magical realist novel. This is not entirely surprising. Today, with the destruction and degeneration of daily life under capitalism, we are seeing scholars and media pundits hypostatize the particular, be it the borderland or the postcolonial, and therefore eliminate any sense of the passage of time and its consequences—how we modify society through (class) struggle and how this struggle in turn modifies the creation and reception of these narrative fictions.

In the chapters that follow I hope to provide several tools that will highlight features of form and content to give us a better idea of what makes good postcolonial and borderland literature tick as well as how they inscribe themselves within all other postcolonial and Latino borderland literatures—that is, within world literature. To begin to systematize just such an approach, in Chapter One, "A User's Guide to Postcolonial and Latino Borderland Fiction," I provide a preliminary guide to devices authors can use to move their readers. In Chapter Two, "Putting the Fiction Back into Arundhati Roy," I turn to the importance of style as well as the use of a "we" character filter, among other devices in Roy's The God of Small Things. So while the marketing-blitz context (the Booker media buzz, reviews, and swift academic canonization) can straightjacket a reader's engagement with the novel, its commercial success should not sidetrack us from understanding better why and how we relish its rich aesthetic complexity. In Chapter Three, "History as Handmaiden to Fiction in Amitav Ghosh," I use the tools of narrative theory to distinguish between history and fiction in an analysis of Ghosh's The Glass Palace as well as to disentangle those faddish academic theories that confuse nation with narration. In Chapter Four, "Fictional World Making in Zadie Smith and Hari Kunzru," I attend to the formal techniques used in Smith's White Teeth and Kunzru's The Impressionist that make worldly the particulars of culture and history represented within their pages. To this end, I also explore how emotive responses such as laughter work to reach out into the world and engage readers cross-culturally. In Chapter Five, "This Is Your Brain on Latino Comics," I analyze how the visual-verbal double narrator works in Latino comic books to create certain pleasurable disjunctions and unities in the reader-viewer's mind. Finally, in Chapter Six, "Reading the Latino Borderland Short Story," I focus on a number of narrative theory concepts and tools (peritext and point of view, for example) to understand better how the "will to style" in Latino borderland authors Dagoberto Gilb and Luis Rodriguez allows them to craft fictions that richly texture the lives of twenty-first-century Chicano characters inhabiting El Paso and East L.A. (the particular) in English with minimal code switching (the general) in ways that appeal to readers the world over (the universal).


“Frederick Aldama's book seeks to transform the teaching of ethnic and postcolonial literature. Fusing borderland and postcolonial fiction as constituent elements of Anglophone world literature, Aldama's work flies in the face of conventional categories with energy and originality. Aldama's embrace of human universals of language and emotion, his resistance to strictures of identity, his sensitivity to historical contexts of creation and reception, and his respect for the autonomy of fictional worlds establish the ethical power of borderland and postcolonial narrative. Yet Aldama argues that fiction should not be bent to the purposes of political argument at the cost of interfering with the invitation to intense empathetic response and the unleashing of readers' world-creating imaginations. He rescues for literary study and for the humanities a core purpose of narrative world-making: the safe experiment with volatile materials.”
Suzanne Keen, Washington and Lee University, author of Empathy and the Novel

“In Aldama's eloquent exploration of postcolonial and Latino fiction—novel, short story, comic book—we find concepts, arguments, and analyses that increase our pleasure as readers of Zadie Smith, Arundhati Roy, Hari Kunzru, Amitav Ghosh, Dagoberto Gilb, Luis Rodriguez and a whole lot of comic book authors—finally!—that lead us to know and inhabit new intellectual territories. This book is for all authors, readers, and critics interested in postcolonial and Latino fiction and, most significantly, it is a daring journey into the Latino and postcolonial fictional mind.”
Monica Brown, Northern Arizona University, author of Gang Nation: Delinquent Citizens in Puerto Rican, Chicano, and Chicana Narratives


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Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse