Dorothee Schneider is a Lecturer in the Department of History.
I have always been interested in reading about people who find themselves in a different place, from the one they used to call home. How does one lose one’s home? Is home tied to place, or can we make homes that move with us, free of a physical location?
Two writers, Sayed Kashua and Jennine Capo Cruzet have some interesting things to say about these questions, though from vastly different perspectives. Capo Cruzet’s novel, Make Your Home among Strangers (2015) tells the story of Lizet, who pushes herself out of her Hialeah Cuban immigrant family onto the campus of an Ivy League college where everything is polished to a chilly shine and comfortably upholstered. As it turns out, Lizet’s family is unforgiving, but not necessarily in expected ways. Her mother also decides to leave home. She becomes a full time community activist to secure the future of a young boy, Ariel Hernandez, as an American immigrant. The story is closely modeled on the 1999/2000 case of Elian Gonzalez. Other family members are overwhelmed by the drive that both Lizet and her mother have and which pulls them to opposite ends of the American cultural universe. Ultimately Lizet sees that she cannot return to a home that no longer exist; she has to take “home” with her. The novel has many cringeworthy scenes (think “Dear White People”), but there is also a chick-lit vibe to the book that makes it an enjoyable read from the start.
Sayed Kashua’s Native (2016) is more modest in its literary ambition. It is a collection of essays, first published (in Hebrew) in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, where Kashua writes a regular weekly column. The vignettes, about Kashua’s life as an Israeli Arab have a cumulative power that can be hard to match in fiction. The tone is quiet and the stories are laced with humor—in Israel Kashua is known as a humorist. But the light touch of the earlier essays (published in 2010) gives way to a more frantic urgent tone. By 2013 there is less space for the Israeli native and his family as borders are drawn more tightly within the homeland. The essays end with Kashua’s decision to leave the country, for a while, at least.
Like many colleagues, I moved to the University of Illinois from a far-away place, and sometimes I still wonder how I got here and why this became home. Capo Cruzet, who lives and teaches in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Kashua, who has lived and worked in Champaign-Urbana for the past three years, have helped me answer that question in their distinctive ways.