Antía Román Sotelo
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Manuela Palacios

Frank & Timme, 2023. 237 pages.

ISBN: 978-3-86596-489-2

ISSN: 2194-752X

Us & Them: Women Writers’ Discourses on Foreignness is the result of the collaborative research projects and transnational literary encounters that have formed part of Manuela Palacios’ academic career. Thus, this book is a notable contribution to the study not only of contemporary works written by Irish and Galician women authors, which allow throughout the different chapters for a comparative analysis between the history and culture of both territories, but also of transdisciplinary questions of current relevance concerning the representation of otherness and the new configurations of identity that emerge with experiences of dislocation and interactions with foreignness. In this respect, Palacios provides a comprehensive reflection on these topics while making use of an exhaustive bibliography comprising Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Julia Kristeva, Rosi Braidotti and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, among many others.

Palacios starts from the basis that collective identity is constructed in relation to the Other and therefore vulnerable to sociopolitical changes, so that it must be constantly reshaped and negotiated. In this vein, she explores literary representations of the hybrid and fragmented national identities of Ireland and Galicia as communities that have been subordinate to oppressing powers and consequently exposed to migratory flows, taking into consideration whether, in contexts of interchange and confrontation, the foreigner is either recognised and accepted, or negated and rejected through practices of multiculturalism, migration and cross-community connections. Palacios includes different encounters with the Other – that which lives within us, besides us, or in the spaces in-between – and particularly focuses on the perspective of women, who have traditionally occupied the marginal position of the outsider in a patriarchal world, as evinced by the difficulties the writers addressed in this volume have themselves had to enter the literary field.

The book is structured into three differentiated parts: the first one, titled “The Genres of Foreignness”, devotes each of its chapters to a specific literary genre – poetry, short fiction, novel and drama – providing, in every one of them, a space to address Galician and Irish case studies separately and then, as a conclusion, a section of “Correspondences” which summarises the previous contents, gathering the convergences of the discussed works. The second part of the book, “Glocal Identities in Translation”, examines the practice of translation not only to create bonds between cultures, as in the case of Ireland and Galicia, but also to ensure the representation of minority languages in bilingual communities. The last part, “Mixing Memory and Desire: Women’s Writers Emigration and Wanderlust”, shares the thoughts and life experiences of different Irish and Galician writers who have been interviewed by Manuela Palacios on questions related to exile and migration, but also to travel as a form of liberation for women in general and as a source of creative inspiration for their work as writers.

The first chapter is devoted to the genre of poetry and focuses on Mary O’Donnell’s Massacre of the Birds (2020) and Alba Cid’s Atlas (2019). Concerning O’Donnell’s poetry, Palacios examines glocal environments that, through a variety of characters and places, demonstrate universal concerns which evince an “intersectionality in the modes of oppression” (29) affecting the Other – foreigners in search of asylum, or people with different religions or languages, as in the case of the Irish border – but also nature and women, embodied in the collection by prostitutes and subaltern subjects exposed to a double colonisation. Cid’s Atlas consists of a journey through all continents that intermingles reality and fiction and brings together different times and spaces by depicting human and non-human migrations and hybrid existences, as well as the human impact on the ecosystem, while simultaneously criticising the perspective of the Western observer that tends to the spectacularisation of the Other. In “Correspondences”, Palacios brings to the fore the poems’ shared awareness of the colonial or neo-colonial practices of exploitation of both people and the environment, and of the prevalent anxiety of becoming the Other.

The second chapter acknowledges the upsurge, from the 1980s onwards, of Irish women writers who found a voice to represent their domestic reality in the genre of the short story. Drawing on David Lloyd, as well as Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin and others, Palacios discusses the ambiguous position of the Irish as exponents and victims of British colonialism. Palacios’ analysis of different Irish short stories – Fiona Barr’s “The Wall Reader”, Anne Devlin’s “Five Notes after a Visit” and Mary O’Donnnell’s “Twentynine Palms” – in which the female protagonists actively engage in both national and international encounters with the Other by sharing private spaces and establishing emotional connections, reasserts that women “are reputedly in a good position to understand disaffection with normative identities” (66). The selected Galician stories by Ánxela Gracián, Rosa Aneiros and Iria Collado López from the compilations Narradoras: 25 autoras galegas (2000) and O libro dos trens (2019) also revolve around the alienation of women who feel out of place at home and abroad and opt for nomadic existences that “challenge pervasive configurations of female paralysis” (92). Thus, all the short stories included in the chapter, concludes Palacios, engage in the search for alternative senses of home and belonging in situations of dispossession and displacement.

The third chapter examines the novels Not the Same Sky (2013) by Evelyn Conlon and A Veiga é como un tempo distinto (2011) by Eva Moreda. Conlon’s novel, based on the British government’s decision to send more than 4,000 Irish orphan girls to Australia during the 1840s, denounces the coloniser’s responsibility in the Irish Famine and the repression of female agency. The novel further develops the previously discussed ambiguity of the Irish since, by settling in another colony of the empire, the girls end up unwillingly “participating in the colonial project that dispossesses and displaces others” (108). In this case, Palacios pertinently emphasises, on the one hand, the difficulties of unearthing traumatic pasts since, as she points out, the question of Irish diaspora has only recently been officially recognised in spite of being an inherent part of Irish identity, and on the other, the restorative but also constrictive effect of constructing a sense of collective identity for groups of migrants. Moreda’s work, which portrays people from the border between Galicia and Asturias who migrate to London out of economic necessity in the troubling times of Franco’s dictatorship, evinces, on the one hand, the support provided by migrants’ networks concerning job search and accommodation, but also the reassembling of split subjectivities, and on the other hand, the problem of homogenising the migrant group when it comes to addressing intersections concerning gender, sexual orientation, social class, ethnicity and ideology, which undoubtedly have a bearing on how they are treated both within and outside the group, as reflected, for instance, in the inequity of salaries or the discrimination on language accent. In this respect, Palacios delves into migrant identities, characterising them as “contrapuntal”, in Said’s terminology, which allow the exiled person to establish “a series of comparisons, similarities and differences” between two cultures and therefore reinforce the idea that identities are contingent and fluid.

The fourth chapter focuses on two drama plays that provide a reinterpretation of Greek myths: Lorna Shaughnessy’s The Sacrificial Wind (2016), inspired by Euripides’ tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis, and Luz Pozo Garza’s Medea en Corinto (2002). As a novelty, Shaughnessy includes in her play individual monologues that invite reflection, more prominent female perspectives, and Euripides himself, whose metatheatrical observations as a character, according to Palacios, make him responsible for the perpetuation of the patriarchal and religious powers that render Iphigenia impotent, presented by Shaughnessy as “a resigned rather than a willing victim” (150). Pozo Garza has chosen to write the play as a lyrical poem in a dialogue form that includes a plurality of voices and to deconstruct the classical figure of Medea by delving deeper into her condition as foreigner and exiled. In addition, Pozo Garza adds references to Galician landscapes to connect the distant past with the local present, and also to Rosalía de Castro’s verses in order to reinforce female agency. Both plays manage thus to provide a feminist reinterpretation of past texts and a new outlook on contemporary social context, since, in the words of Palacios, “the strangeness of such a distant past and culture […] defamiliarizes our present-day experience, deactivates our automatic responses and inertia, and forces us to look at it anew, from a different angle” (143). Moreover, the chapter accounts for the difficulties for Irish women playwrights to get their plays staged at the Abbey during the twentieth century as well as for the enduring gender inequalities in Irish theatre in the present, which correlates with the situation in the Galician stage, where women playwrights have always been unrepresented, more than in the Spanish-language theatre of the Iberian Peninsula.

In the second part of the book, “Glocal Identities in Translation”, Palacios meaningfully defines translation “as a kind of ‘translocal understanding’” (172) and discusses, in that sense, some difficulties in translation using paradigmatic cases from the anthology To the Winds Our Sails. Irish Writers Translate Galician Poetry (2010), edited by Palacios herself and Mary O’Donnell. Furthermore, she mentions the role of translation in reinforcing cross-cultural affiliations between Ireland and Galicia based on common Celtic roots, political struggles and religious beliefs. Palacios has also edited other anthologies such as Forked Tongues. Galician, Basque and Catalan Women’s Poetry in Translations by Irish Writers (2012) that allow her to provide a thought-provoking reflection on the benefits and drawbacks of translation for minority languages such as Gaelic and Galician, since bilingual editions that include English and Spanish might give greater visibility, but also perpetuate dynamics of globalisation that derogate the local.

The third and last part, “Mixing Memory and Desire: Women’s Writers Emigration and Wanderlust”, explores the experience of travel for the Irish and the Galician, as members of communities that have been marked by traumatic migrations but currently enjoy better economic and social conditions. Palacios has conducted to this end interviews with both Irish  – Celia de Fréine, Lia Mills, Mary O’Donnell, Rita Kelly, Mary Hosty, Lorna Shaughnessy – ­and Galician writers – María do Carme Kruckenberg, Marilar Aleixandre, Luz Pichel, Chus Pato, Teresa Moure, Lupe Gómez, María do Cebreiro, Yolanda Castaño, Eva Moreda – who recount the migratory experiences of their forebears, which were motivated by political or economic reasons and used to be consequently silenced within the family, and their own experiences as travellers in search of inspiration for their works and of contact with other writers and literary projects. Both the profiles of all these authors and the questionnaire employed for the interviews are included in appendixes.

In conclusion, Us & Them: Women Writers’ Discourses on Foreignness, encourages contemporary reflections on notions of identity and belonging that are fundamental to understand ourselves and others in the world of today, where not only the effects of globalisation have fostered frequent cultural interchanges and encounters with the Other, but also those of ongoing crisis and practices of neo-colonialism which continue to turn people into climate and war refugees and force us to reconsider our relationship with the environment. The works herein discussed attest to these social changes and new realities through a variety of perspectives and enriching connections, both at national and international levels, which can be forged in private and emotional realms thanks to women’s sensibility concerning subjugation, dispossession and alterity. Palacios’ insightful and intersectional literary analysis demonstrates vast knowledge not only of theoretical aspects from fields such as postcolonial and gender studies, but also of the sociological circumstances and literary landscapes that characterise and bring together the Irish and Galician communities.