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This article is taken from PN Review 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 2018.

Borders & Crossings

Varieties of Exile
Richard Gwyn
Presented at the 14th Robert Graves Conference in Palma, Mallorca, on 12 July 2018

Once near a border, it is impossible not to be involved, not to want to exorcise or transgress something. Just by being there, the border is an invitation. Come on, it whispers, step across this line. If you dare. To step across the line, in sunshine or under cover of night, is fear and hope rolled into one […] People die crossing borders, and sometimes just being near them. The lucky ones are reborn on the other side.
                                                                                                               — Kapka Kassabova

BORDERS DEFINE US and deny us; they carve out entire tracts of the planet, reward those born by chance within certain territories, and condemn others to a condition of otherness and anomie. Crossing borders is, for much of the world’s population, an act of transgression and often involves huge risk.

Borders not only shape lives; they serve a political purpose by promoting a sense of insider and outsider, of belonging and of exile. But perhaps exile itself is a kind of belonging, the forging of an outsider identity that involves, as Kassabova notes, being reborn.

Roberto Bolaño said – rather ungraciously, perhaps – on being invited to speak on the theme of Literature and Exile: ‘I don’t believe in exile, especially not when the word sits next to the word ‘literature’.’ And I can see his point: unless you are Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Taslima Nasreen (or even Ovid) few writers are threatening or ...


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