Imagining Brussels: memory, mobility and space in Francophone diasporic writing
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This thesis examines literary representations of the city of Brussels in Francophone diasporic writing. Drawing on and exploring the usefulness of memory and trauma studies, postcolonial theory, and spatial studies in a Belgian context, this thesis reads six novels, spanning a contemporary period from 1985 to 2011, by Francophone writers, who themselves or whose parents originate from countries with a history of Belgian and French colonialism: Leïla Houari’s Zeida de nulle part (1985), Pie Tshibanda’s Un fou noir au pays des Blancs (1999), Saber Assal’s A l’ombre des gouttes (2000), José Tshisungu wa Tshisungu’s La Flamande de la gare du Nord (2001), Mina Oualdlhadj’s Ti t’appelles Aїcha, pas Jouzifine (2008) and Patrick François’s La dernière larme du lac Kivu (2011). In doing so, this thesis investigates the multiple ways in which these writers imagine and construct the urban space of Brussels through intersecting transnational trajectories and histories of violence. By analysing how they ‘write’ Brussels, the very architecture and landscape of which are clearly marked by colonialism and labour migration, this thesis offers a critical exploration of how experiences and memories of displacement and exile shape the perception of the urban space in these texts. I argue in particular that these writers either recode certain urban spaces or create new ones in order to construct narratives of marginalisation and belonging. Finally, this thesis aims to join the emerging discussion of ethnic-minority writing in Belgium by providing an understanding of the ambiguous role of Brussels as a postcolonial metropolis and post-war destination for labour migration, while seemingly remaining a peripheral location for Francophone literary production in a cultural sphere that still gravitates towards Paris.