Dissociation, Spirit Possession and the Languages of Trauma in Some Recent African-British Novels

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In the last decade, three novels by African-British authors have been published
that portray characters who could be seen as presenting symptoms
of dissociative disorder: Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love (2010), Helen
Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl (2005), and Brian Chikwava’s Harare North (2009).
In each of them, an alternative explanatory framework of spirit possession
is also explored. This essay examines what is at stake in juxtaposing such
“African” and “Western” viewpoints within the fictional form. It finds that
while Forna’s novel largely conforms to a traditional model of traumatic
experience, the non-realist writing of Oyeyemi and, especially, Chikwava
might be seen as disrupting the trauma paradigm, not in order to replace
it with an Africa-centered perspective, but rather to explore the fictional
potential of divorcing the “trauma aesthetic” from the actual experience
of trauma.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-132
JournalResearch in African Literatures
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015