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Trauma Novel

Dan's picture

    I wanted to return briefly to the question I asked in class on Thursday about what I Rigoberta Menchu, and the trauma novel, does. I asked this question because I have read Trauma fiction before. Most recently, I read Half of a Yellow Sun, a Nigerian novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The novel explores a horrendous civil war which took place in Nigeria in the 1960s – essentially a genocide which was funded by European and unrecognized by Americans. It was difficult but incredibly moving to read, and for me, it succeeded in establishing empathy and producing shock and disgust that I had never heard any mention of this history (especially considering that it wasn’t that long ago).

    Part of the tragedy of that recognition is discovering that this is just one trauma, one genocide, in a world in which genocides are always taking place (and Americans are often funding them). So if millions of people are threatened, displaced, tortured, massacred, etc., the trauma novel, or the testimonio, both tries to create a space for a particular trauma in history and tries to shake the complacent and privileged  into recognition and hopefully into action of some form.

    However, if there is a trauma novel from every group of disenfranchised people, how can we read them all? Is there the possibility that we will become desensitized to the brutality within the pages of each? Like those commercials about starving children, which strike and affect us at first, but eventually, after over exposure, we are tempted to just flip past. Perhaps each trauma can be affective for different types of people – but we shouldn’t be expected to read them all, once the empathy and the recognition of the constructedness/omissions in history have set in. What do you think?