Where in the World Are You?

by Carol A Westbrook

“Drive east 6 blocks and then turn right, and you’ll be there,” I told my son.

He answered, “Forget it. I don’t know which way is east. I’ll just use my GPS.”

I was incredulous. How could any native Chicagoan not know where east is located–toward Lake Michigan, of course! How could he not be able to find his way without GPS directions? After all, Chicago is merely a grid, as you can see on the map below. The streets are straight lines, oriented north-south and east-west, with 8 blocks to a mile. The street numbers increase by 100 every block, with the zero-zero point being downtown, at State and Madison. Give me the coordinates and I can locate you precisely and find my way there using the map in my head (except for those baffling diagonal streets). And if you prefer to use a compass, rest easy, because the compass declination in Chicago is close to zero

I shouldn’t be surprised that my son, like most younger adults, prefers his GPS. A recent survey showed that four out of five 18 to 30-year olds can’t navigate without electronic guidance, whereas more than half of people over 60 were very comfortable with maps. Myself, I prefer a map. If find my GPS is distracting when I’m driving, and if I follow it blindly I lose my place on my mental map.

Yes, I carry a map of Chicago in my head, or any other place I’m staying for more than a few days–including a hotel room. (It’s a handy way to get to the bathroom in the dark.) Most people have mental maps of their immediate vicinity and the areas where they normally travel; how they use those maps is another story. Read more »

‘Home Had Come Here’: Connective Dissonance and Split Selves in Leila Aboulela’s “The Translator” and Elif Shafak’s “Honour”

by Claire Chambers

Leila Aboulela's debut novel The Translator (1999) is about a love affair between a Sudanese translator, Sammar, and her employer, AboulelaChambersPhoto the Scottish lecturer Rae Isles. Turkish novelist Elif Shafak similarly handles various transcultural love affairs in her 2012 novel Honour, but is more concerned with their darker aspects of jealousy and disgrace. Both novels contain the repeated motif of a new migrant from a Muslim background finding it hard to adjust in her new life in Britain and living as though she were still in the home country.

In The Translator, Sammar sometimes observes a British object or phenomenon and is transported back imaginatively to Sudan. We see this connective dissonance when Scottish central heating pipe noises call to Sammar's mind the azan or Muslim call to prayer. Sammar also attempts to recapture the tropical weather she is accustomed to by spending time in Aberdeen's heated Winter Gardens.

In Honour, the fractured identity of the migrant is dramatized most vividly through the split selves of Kurdish twins Pembe (who Elif Shafak - Honourmoved to Britain) and Jamila (who stayed at home in Turkey). Even as children, each girl's subjectivity is inseparable from that of her twin. For example, Pembe's father takes her miles away from Jamila to get a rabies injection, but the sister cries out in pain at the same moment the shot is administered. As the narrator puts it, 'When one closed her eyes, the other one went blind. If one hurt, the other bled'. This is an idea of connection drawn from Islam, since in a hadith Mohammed describes the indivisible nature of the ummah or global community of believers as being like 'that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches'.

To theorize the translocal disconnection that makes the UK veer off into Sudan, Turkey, or elsewhere for diasporic writers, I reach for Jahan Ramazani's A Transnational Poetics and for Derek Gregory's analysis of imagined geographies as 'doubled spaces of articulation' in The Colonial Present. As a geographer, Gregory is alert to both the linkages and the severances that are caused by globalization. He offers the term 'connective dissonance', which is helpful in allowing insight into the frequent moments in these novels at which characters experience the world swinging around and Britain becoming Sudan/Turkey or vice versa.

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