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University of Tulsa

Women Writers, Global Migration, and the City: Joan Riley's "Waiting in the Twilight" and
Hanan Al-Shaykh's "Only in London"
Author(s): Susan Alice Fischer
Source: Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol. 23, No. 1, Where in the World Is
Transnational Feminism? (Spring, 2004), pp. 107-120
Published by: University of Tulsa
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20455173
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Women Writers, Global Migration, and the City:
Joan Riley's Waiting in the Twilight and
Hanan Al-Shaykh's Only in London
Susan Alice Fischer
Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York
Studies of women's fictional representations of the city have often relied
upon sometimes useful, but increasingly overworked notions, such as that
of the bourgeois flaneur positioned as a detached and privileged male
observer of the urban environment.1 Such traditional paradigms fail to
account for women's complex realities in the global city. A shift in analy
sis is necessary to examine the portrayal of characters whose presence in
the city is the result of women's migration brought about by the pressures
of capitalism and postcolonialism and whose experience calls into question
the very definitions of home, belonging, nation, and identity.2 Drawing on
concepts that have characterized feminist and postcolonial analyses, such
as "borderlands" and "interstitial space," studies of the politics of space fur
ther an analysis of contemporary women's urban fiction by looking at the
ways in which space is constructed in terms of difference and privilege.3
In Edge of Empire: Postcolonialism and the City, Jane M. Jacobs reminds
us that "because of the primacy of the spatial in imperial projects, post
colonial politics is also often explicitly spatial" and that the "city is also an
important component in the spatiality of imperialism."4 Referring to
Roland Barthes's claim that "the city is the very 'place of our meeting with
the other,"' Jacobs looks at the ways "constructs of difference and privilege"
manifest themselves concretely in the city (p. 4). Jacobs rightly points out
that, as sites of meeting and exchange, cities also have the potential for the
"destabilisation of imperial arrangements" and other relations of power,
seen in "the negotiations of identity and place which arise through dias
poric settlements and hybrid cultural forms" (p. 4). Thus the literature of
migration to the global city calls for an examination not only of the repre
sentations of particular geographical places but also of the protagonists'
engagement with such locations and specifically with the social spaces of
work, housing, and leisure. Such an analysis should look at how migrants
to the global city are excluded through constructed notions of privilege
and difference and how they, in turn, resist by recreating a sense of belong
ing and identity.
Literary representations of migration to the global city illustrate how
107
postcolonial power, involving "diverse groups far beyond the boundaries of
the metropolis," is reproduced locally in the city.5 A focus on the global
city and on the different ways in which "places and people are represented
in a context of power and inequality," John Eade writes in Placing London,
enables not only a representation of "economic and political changes but
also a reworking of people's understanding of the world around them" (pp.
15-16), as globalization has as much to do with the movement of people as
it does with goods and capital.6 According to Eade, postcolonial migration
"has created a metropolis where struggles around racial and ethnic differ
ences engage with a colonial heritage of beliefs and practices concerning
insiders and outsiders" (p. 16). As women represent half the world's
migrants, this engagement is also gendered.7 Contemporary women's writ
ing about migration to London illustrates not only the economic, political,
and social pressures that lead to and characterize women's experiences of
London, but also the ways in which migration "places the discourse of
'home' and 'dispersion' in creative tension, inscribing a homing desire
while simultaneously critiquing discourses of fixed origins."8 Thus a study
of contemporary urban migrant literature should examine the representa
tion of public space, particularly as it relates to access, power, and the
recreation of identity. As Carole Boyce Davies further points out, "the
convergence of multiple places and cultures . . . renegotiates the terms of
Black women's experience [and] their identities," and their writing "rede
fines identity away from exclusion and marginality" (p. 4).9
Women authors write about migration to London in their fiction in
many different ways; urban space is gendered, racialized, and sexualized,
and class differentiation also underscores the experience of migration and
the city. London topography becomes a space where contemporary women
writers explore these experiences and project a revised sense of identity
and community as they examine their places in the world. While contem
porary women's fiction set in London is rich with examples, the focus here
is on two novels about women's migration to London: Joan Riley's Waiting
in the Twilight (1987), about post-war Jamaican immigration, and Hanan
Al-Shaykh's Only in London (2001), about much more recent Arab immi
gration.10 Although detailing quite different experiences, both novels cen
ter on the ways the protagonists struggle to find places for themselves in a
city where global relations of economic, political, and social power mar
ginalize them.
Riley's aptly named novel Waiting in the Twilight is about Adella
Johnson's shrinking horizons as she moves from her childhood home in
Beaumont, in the Jamaican countryside, to Kingston and from Kingston to
108
London. The novel centers on Adella's marginalization as a Caribbean
immigrant in London, yet her commodification begins in Jamaica when
she finds herself pregnant from her first sexual encounter. She is thrown
out of her cousin's home for her misdeed and supported by Beresford, her
baby's father, under the condition that she continue to entertain his sex
ual demands. During this time, she lives in a community of poor women in
similar economic straits and finds her work as a seamstress drying up due
to her sexual reputation. Nonetheless, she manages to escape this situation
and has high hopes once she joins the next man in her life, Stanton, whom
she marries in London. She left home with the belief that life in town
and later in London-would offer greater opportunities but finds at the
end of her journey, and her life, that Beaumont had been the one place
filled with safety and light, as contrasted with the gloom of London.
Adella's is the story of female commodification and of finding herself at the
mercy of a patriarchal and racist postcolonial system that exploits her body
and her labor. As Isabel Carrera Suairez points out, Riley's treatment of her
protagonist's experiences in London is "paradigmatic of the experience of
West Indian immigrant women in England.""1 Displacement from home
results in her being caught up in an economic system beyond her control
and finding it increasingly difficult to recreate a sense of identity and
belonging in the world.
Planning to stay only two years in London, Adella and Stanton find
themselves enmeshed in a system that does not allow them to get ahead
financially or otherwise. Like so many other Caribbean migrant workers,
Stanton works for London Transport, but Adella finds that "England tek
ihm pride [sic]" (p. 148), and he turns abusive, resenting Adella for mak
ing economic decisions, such as buying their family home. Still Adella tries
to get ahead and moves her family out of their cramped flat and into the
house in Eldridge Road "in that decaying part of Brixton" (p. 14); the
estate agent will show only a few run-down and over-priced houses to black
clients. The gloom of the dark and uninviting house contrasts with her
memory of her father's house in Beaumont, which was "so light, so nice
and cool inside" (p. 20). Adella hopes the house will bring her more eco
nomic solvency as she lets spare rooms to boarders, but eventually the
house falls into such disrepair and her finances into such disarray that the
house is condemned, and she is relocated by the local council.
The situation worsens when Adella has a stroke, and Stanton eventu
ally leaves her and the children for her cousin, who had come to help dur
ing Adella's illness. Adella is left with a disability that makes it impossible
for her to continue working in fine embroidery and underscores her dis
placement and her difficulty in negotiating London.12 She finally finds a
job as a cleaner in an office in the City:
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The company was a big one in the heart of the City of London, a place into
which she had never ventured before. It had such big buildings all towering
above her, and she had wandered about for what seemed like hours before
finding the place. All the streets looked the same, the buildings so impres
sive-Adella could not believe she could possibly get a job in one of them.
She knew from experience what these people thought of West Indians.
Better to work for the clothes-makers who needed your skills for their prof
its. (p. 85)
Adella's reaction to this place in the heart of the financial district illus
trates her differentiation and her exclusion from economic power at all
levels. While Adella is offered this job and holds it down for many years,
her dispensability is underscored when she is summarily dismissed the first
time she is unavoidably late. She finds another cleaning job with the local
council, where we witness the humiliation she receives at work because of
her race, age, gender, and disability.13
The novel focuses on Adella's struggle to survive an economic and
social system from which she cannot escape.14 Public spaces become the
site of this conflict, and her "difference" determines her access to them.
While she attempts to resist the exclusion she encounters, her ability to do
so gradually wanes. Adella faces obstacles not only in housing and employ
ment but also in the health care and justice systems. She needs to rely on
her daughter who speaks "like white people" to talk to her doctor in
Stockwell (p. 72). Another daughter helps her to deal with the police
when she is attacked by two white boys in Mostyn Road, an area described
as a "wasteland that had been landscaped and turned into a children's play
area until someone had set fire to the wooden structures" (p. 76). Knowing
how the police have treated other black people, she is afraid when her
daughter calls them, yet reassured by her presence as she "knew how to
speak their language" (p. 77). Unfortunately, Adella is right to be wary.
Even though she insists that her attackers are white boys from the nearby
Stockwell estate, the police persist in believing they must be black. In this
space of urban decay, she is vulnerable as the imperial city constructs racial
difference in such a way as to consign her to a "wasteland" located between
the poles of criminality and entitlement.
Adella ends her life with no place to go. She has lived in various
London spaces, all confined in one way or another because of the racism,
classism, and sexism she encounters. The inaccessibility of London spaces
constructs her difference and exclusion despite her attempts to renegotiate
her identity in her new world. Jamaica, on the other hand, exists almost
exclusively as a homeland of the mind to which she feels she cannot
return, except briefly to visit the son who had been left behind. Adella
finds that Jamaica "had been so different, so strange and she could not see
herself returning there to live" (p. 125). Migration, far from being expan
110
sive, has shrunken the parameters of her life so much that at the end, she
is confined to her council flat where she remembers her life:
She was always lonely now, cut off from the life outside. The sights and
smells, the milling people and the market. It didn't matter how many people
came to visit her, how long they stayed and how much gossip they passed on;
she was still locked in her room, her tiny world, and they just came to visit.
(p. 142)
The structure of the novel underscores not only Adella's spatial dislocation
but her temporal displacement as well.15 As Adella reviews her life, the
novel moves back and forth in time and space. By the end of her life, her
temporal and spatial confusion allows her to achieve some peace as she
imagines that her husband Stanton is returning. This peace comes too late
and is illusory, yet it is an attempt to redefine, in Davies's words, "identity
as it re-connects and re-members, bring[ing] together Black women dis
located by space and time" (p. 4). Part of Adella's tragedy, however, is that
she is unable to reconnect with others and struggles to hold herself
together. Nonetheless, her act of re-membering constitutes the novel and
is a final attempt to gain control of her life. Adella's sense of identity or
home comes at the cost of her psychological unhinging and, unmoored
from actual spatial relations, she retreats into a fluid elsewhere, drifting
between the different spaces and times she has inhabited. While her mind
navigates this imaginary space in an attempt to transcend temporal and
spatial borders, her body remains trapped in a physical location-her
council flat-determined by her difference. Her death poignantly under
lines the untenable nature of her fragmentary existence.
Waiting in the Twilight is one of the bleaker novels of women's migration
to London, offering no future to the migrant woman herself, but only to
the children who have managed to gain an education and thus greater
access to the system, as represented by social spaces in the urban landscape.
The sole bright spot in the novel is reserved for the next generation, rep
resented by the two daughters who manage to achieve success in London,
while Adella's other children's lives remain more difficult. As Suahrez
points out, "Riley's fiction presents more clearly the loss and absences in
her characters' world than the reparation of that loss.... it concentrates
on the representation of that fragmented self and the disruption of lives
and hopes that the racist, post-colonial setting is responsible for" (p. 295).
Other London novels, while not shying away from the difficulties of
London life, often show women migrants navigating city spaces in ways
that enable them to resist their exploitation more effectively than Adella
in Waiting in the Twilight.16
111
Shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2002, Al
Shaykh's novel Only in London is different in its tone and exploration of
the connections between space and power. This is perhaps not surprising
given that the novel deals with a later immigration of Arabs, some of
whom have come from the wealthy and professional classes and have been
able to shield themselves from a few of the uglier sides of the immigrant
experience, which writers such as Joan Riley-and Buchi Emecheta and
Beryl Gilroy-have written about. However, Al-Shaykh's protagonists are
among the many unskilled Middle Eastern immigrants who come to
London for economic opportunities, similar to those of earlier generations
of African and Caribbean immigrants, and who also find themselves in the
service industries. Although located geographically in the wealthier parts
of Arab London, upon which her protagonists depend economically, Al
Shaykh's novel focuses on three immigrants who have struggled against
poverty and for survival: two women-a Moroccan prostitute, Amira, and
an Iraqi refugee, Lamis-and a gay male transvestite from Beirut, Samir,
who worked previously as a cleaner in Dubai. All are caught to varying
degrees at the margins of the wealthy Arab world in London as they try to
make their own way economically. A fourth character, Nicholas, a white
Englishman who works as an art dealer for Sotheby's and lives between
London and Oman, becomes romantically involved with Lamis and pre
sents Anglo-Arab relations from another perspective, at times seeing
Lamis through Orientalist lenses. Movement structures the novel, which is
framed by an inbound flight from Dubai to London in which the main
characters are first thrown together by the turbulence of both the flight
and their lives, and an outbound flight which brings Lamis to meet
Nicholas in Oman once she has gained a sense of place in London. The
novel is an interweaving of the stories of these four characters as they criss
cross London and each other's lives.
Economic relations structure the experiences of the three immigrants in
this novel and set their migrations in motion. Amira grew up neglected,
poor, and dirty, the daughter of a water seller and a mother who refused to
come up with the trousseau needed to marry her off to a wealthy man.
Amira believes that "everything in life has a price" (p. 168) and remem
bers when "she'd begun to make the connection, and to think seriously
about her body and men and wealth" (p. 169), leading to her career choice.
She is a high-class prostitute in her late thirties who, realizing that her
charms are fading as her body is spreading, decides to pass herself off as a
princess in an elaborate scheme to rip off rich Arab men. It seems as if, on
the one hand, Arab society has traveled en masse to Central London with
relations of power intact, yet Amira also capitalizes on the recognition that
"circumstances altered the nature of men's fantasies. In London, what drew
112
them was the notion of a woman who'd been hidden away in the dark,
wrapped in a black veil, like a packet of dates or henna" (p. 75). Her scams
work not only because of people's desire to be connected to royalty but also
because the diasporic context means that her identity cannot be so easily
verified and is thus more fluid. As she points out, "nobody asked princesses
for their identity documents. Everything was possible when you were
abroad. You could recreate yourself with a name and parents of your own
choosing" (pp. 113-14). To set her masquerade in motion, she develops a
small industry and has
to keep cash moving in a steady flow, into the Rolls-Royce [she hires], her
attendants, restaurants, the aftemoon teas, the tips for her informants who
worked in the hotel, casinos, airline companies, banks, cabarets, and the styl
ists in the hotel hair salons, all of whom gave her the names of their regular
clients. (p. 167)
Samir's arrival in London is also connected to dubious economic trans
actions and a need to redefine his sexual identity. For a fee, he has smug
gled in a monkey that had swallowed diamonds, which he delivers to a
receiver in London. Like Amira, Samir suffered poverty as a child in
Beirut. Institutionalized for dressing up as a girl, he later married and pro
duced five children in Dubai. Samir finds London a haven not so much for
its economic possibilities-he is an unskilled worker who entertains peo
ple with his monkey in the casinos and works long hours at odd jobs, such
as feeding expired parking meters to receive tips from grateful punters
but for the sexual freedom London offers him. After two months of being
in London, "he felt he belonged there and nowhere else, and he missed
nobody," not even his children (p. 149). Despite the exclusion he encoun
ters because of his nationality and sexuality, he walks the city streets feel
ing that
London was freedom. It was your right to do anything, any time. You didn't
need to undergo a devastating war in order to be freed to do what you
wanted, and when you did do what you wanted, you didn't have to feel guilty
or embarrassed, and start leading a double life and ultimately end up frus
trated. (p. 149)
While Amira and Samir represent the more marginalized side of
London life, Lamis is economically comfortable when we first meet her in
London. This has not always been the case: at her mother's insistence, she
married a rich Iraqi who brought her to London in the first place. She feels
that "if her mother had known her daughter's body, or thought about it, she
wouldn't have been capable of marrying her off as she did" (p. 194), not
even to "that rich suitor, sent from heaven to pull them out of poverty and
give them back their dignity" (p. 20). She has asked for a divorce, despite
113
her mother bemoaning the loss of "two buildings in Beirut, two flats in
London-all that wealth ... down the drain" (p. 12), and now lives in one
of her husband's flats near Edgware Road where she can see the British
Telecom (BT) tower, which becomes a beacon in her search for herself in
London. Lamis's journey in London is that of a long-time resident and
British national who has, however, always seen London from the outside
because her "ex-husband and his mother had closed the door to London in
her face" (p. 23). During her marriage, she had once run an errand in Soho
and "felt so carefree, envious of the people of her own age she saw sitting
in a cafe, and of a young man arranging flowers in a shop window" (p. 11).
Despite her husband's concerns that "the streets of Soho were full of sex
ual deviants, the place was synonymous with drugs and alcohol" (pp. 11
12), Lamis lingered. Yet, after her divorce and an unsatisfactory stay in
Dubai, Lamis finds, upon her return to London, that "the possibility of
being able to live like that was as distant as the sun from the earth" (p. 12).
She longs for connection to London and feels that English people are "out
of bounds to [her], just like the city" (p. 13).
Despite her British passport, Lamis struggles to find a sense of "home" in
London. She leaves her husband, yet symbolically still lives in one of his
properties. Lamis's quest for herself will not only lead to a relationship with
Nicholas, about whom she wonders at times whether he sees her, as do his
friends, as "an Arab-Iraqi-rather than as a person" (p. 160), but also to
the necessity of seeing herself and London from a new perspective.
Similarly, for their relationship to function, Nicholas will have to gain a
different perspective on Lamis and London by spending time away from
her in Oman. The novel makes numerous references to the ways that both
characters see themselves and London through the eyes of others. Nicholas
recalls how, when he first came to the city after studying at Oxford, he saw
London through the eyes of a previous lover. The difficulty he and Lamis
have in seeing each other symbolizes the "othering" that the experience of
migration to the global city produces. Seeing herself in a disassociated or
dislocated manner, Lamis finds it difficult to walk in the city streets and is
afraid of taking the bus or the tube, despite the fact that she recognizes that
a "taxi was not a security blanket, or a buoy to hitch up to in the city. She
wouldn't get lost. She had eyes and ears. She could read the names of the
streets and understand directions. She could wander about, stop and eat
somewhere" (pp. 56-57; emphasis added). Yet she does none of these
things and "only relaxe[s] when she [sees] a taxi for hire and [ius safely
inside it" (p. 57). Like the flat she lives in, the taxi insulates her from
direct interaction with London spaces. She tries to connect by taking
English lessons to eliminate her Arabic accent and by distancing herself
from her Middle Eastern friends as she enters the relationship with
114
Nicholas. When she goes out, she does not experience herself as firmly
located in space. Her sense of displacement is clear when she goes to the
theater in the Strand and watches herself meeting Nicholas in the foyer
and, once inside, finds herself watching "two plays, one on the stage, and
the other acted out in her mind" (p. 179).
Only when she is able to reconcile this split vision, which comes from
her experience of displacement, is Lamis able to feel a sense of belonging
in London and in the world, as well as within herself. This shift in per
spective is enacted symbolically at the end of the novel when she finally
convinces the officials at the British Telecom tower to let her "see London
from above" because "the tower guides [her] like a lighthouse, as if [she is]
a lost ship" (p. 263). By gaining a different perspective and a more unified
vision (recalling Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse),"7 Lamis is able to
piece together London and her life:
She saw herself in her bedroom, looking out at the tower, and looking back
from the tower to the bedroom. There she was, a pebble stuck in midstream,
no longer carried along by the current. Nobody stared out of the window like
that so eamestly, except a lonely stranger willing herself to fly out and alight
in those places that she observed so often, places that gave her the feeling
that their inhabitants would welcome visitors coming to sit on their sofas,
and at the end of the visit would wave them off; she saw herself without a
roof over her head, and with no income, and she imagined herself summon
ing her courage and entering the flower shop she had always admired and
asking for a job in it. (p. 265)
Recognizing after her visit to the British Telecom tower that she "was in
another world" and that she "wanted to see London like an outstretched
palm" (p. 266), Lamis feels she is "just waking from her sleep in London"
(p. 267). When she has achieved this more complete vision, which encom
passes the different aspects of her identity, Lamis is able to take control of
her life, without her mother, her husband, or indeed Nicholas, and obtain
a job, enroll in college and, significantly, ride the tube, as she moves away
from the marginality of life on the surface of London and finds places for
herself in her city.
Throughout the novel, Central London paradoxically keeps Samir,
Amira, and Lamis at the edges, in part because it is the center of Arab
life-particularly wealthy Arab life-in London. The novel is specific in
its location at all times, often underlining the extent to which the charac
ters are excluded or are able to create a new sense of hybrid identity that
allows them to feel at home in their diasporic setting. When Samir first
sees Edgware Road, he exclaims, "It's incredible! Mazraa Street [in Beirut]
has moved to London!" (p. 23). For Amira, the areas around Hyde Park
Corner, Park Lane, Knightsbridge, and Mayfair represent "the heart of
115
London. Around her were the clean, glamorous streets and shops full of
everything she would ever desire" (p. 205). There she plies her trade in
posh establishments, such as Claridge's and the Mayfair, Park Lane, and
Dorchester hotels. Samir accompanies her to the cabarets and casinos in
the area where he and his monkey entertain people. But he also wanders
the streets in search of young men, often winding up in places by mistake,
such as an AIDS clinic when he is looking for a male escort service.
Only at the end of the novel does life pull the characters out of the cen
tral parts of London, thus signifying growth in the characters and a greater
sense of connection to London. When a close friend of Amira's dies, Samir
ends up in Ealing (in west London) to purchase a coffin, and Amira goes
to the cemetery in Walthamstow (in northeast London), which will be her
friend's resting place even though she is from Egypt. Similarly, Nicholas
gains a new perspective on his life in London and his relationship with
Lamis by spending prolonged periods in Oman. After climbing the BT
tower to gain a vision of London from all directions, Lamis accepts her
Arabic accent in English and travels to Oman, even considering a visit to
Dubai, secure in her sense of self and her place in the world. Each charac
ter has experienced difficulties: Amira has been found out and beaten by a
"real" prince, and she has lost her friend to cancer. Samir's wife and chil
dren have arrived from Dubai, and his monkey has run off. Lamis and
Nicholas have severed ties. Yet there is, at the end of the novel, the sense
that these characters have begun to reinvent themselves in ways that are
possible "only in London."
By locating their novels precisely in London's topography and social
spaces, both Riley and Al-Shaykh illustrate the exclusion their charac
ters-mostly migrant women-encounter as they come to London to cre
ate better lives for themselves. Particular city spaces exemplify the ways in
which privilege and difference are constructed during encounters with the
urban environment. Riley focuses on specific types of social spaces-work,
housing, social services-from and through which her protagonist is
excluded because she is black, female, and an immigrant. In Al-Shaykh's
novel, the relation to the city streets, transportation, and particular
venues-high-class hotels, theaters, the British Telecom tower-as well as
to the private spaces of home and body symbolize the protagonists' strug
gle to find places for themselves and to remake their sense of identity in a
war-ravaged world that has uprooted them and attempted to sell them off
to the highest bidder.
Postcolonialism and patriarchy force these women into economic rela
tions in which they are exploited, and, in both novels, the female body is
also a site of colonialization. When Adella, in Riley's Waiting in the Twilight,
116
finds that her sexuality is the commodity in which she is forced to trade,
she breaks away from the sexual demands of her first lover only to move to
London where she is consigned to the most exploitative areas of the ser
vice industry and to substandard housing in the private and public sectors.
Neither her labor nor her capital gives her access to move from the fringes
to the center of life in London in the years culminating in the "pull-your
self-up-by-your-bootstraps" Thatcherism in which the novel was pub
lished. On the contrary, the stresses that life in London produces ulti
mately push her further outside despite her entrepreneurialism, and she has
to rely on the inequities of the dwindling Welfare State for housing, work,
and healthcare. That she cannot fully access the social services she should
be able to expect relegates her to a marginal positionality at best, under
scoring what Riley elsewhere calls "unbelonging" and shrinking her
"homeplace" into nothingness.'8
In Only in London, Al-Shaykh's protagonists are similarly marginalized
in their struggle to cast off poverty and other restrictions by coming to
London to remake their lives. They exist in the "new" London, which has
thrown off much of the pretense of providing a Welfare State, and they
must make their way through a capitalist system the best they can. The
migrant characters, Amira, Samir, and Lamis, have exchanged what they
can for greater economic potential and for the possibility of freeing them
selves of other people's sexual arrangements for them. Lamis and Amira
find that their bodies are nonetheless sexualized commodities to be used
for exchange: Lamis is traded into matrimony, and Amira peddles her body
as her sole means of sustenance. Yet despite their exploitation and their
separateness from the city, these characters have some leeway to recreate
themselves in London's spaces. In Al-Shaykh's novel, more than in Riley's,
the protagonists take varying degrees of control over their sexuality. Amira
develops an elaborate masquerade, and Samir walks the streets in search of
his sexual identity, while Lamis leaves a marriage, enters into a new rela
tionship, and then recreates herself and her relation to London in some
thing closer to her own terms.19
While Riley's Adella is often quashed by the environment in which she
finds herself, Al-Shaykh's characters manage to resist as they struggle
against both the gendered and classed relations that have followed them
from the Middle East and the orientalizing and economically marginaliz
ing impulses of the imperial city. In London, Amira, Lamis, and particu
larly Samir find ways, which would not be available to them at "home," of
constituting hybrid identities, which resist societal norms. Samir lives a
gay life, and, in this arena, London represents freedom. Amira's resistance
through masquerade turns the stereotypes of Middle Eastern women into a
tool to obtain what she wants: economic power. Lamis's story holds out
117
hope as she recognizes herself as a Middle Eastern woman with a place in
London. For Al-Shaykh's characters, London offers-at least on an indi
vidual level-the potential for the "destabilisation of imperial arrange
ments" that Jacobs claims for cities (p. 4). As these characters stake out
sites of resistance against exclusion, they recreate a sense of belonging and
a complex new identity in the global city.
NOTES
1
See Deborah L.
Parsons, Streetwalking
the
Metropolis: Women,
the
City,
and
Modernity
(Oxford:
Oxford
University Press, 2000),
who draws on Walter
Benjamin's
notion of the
flaneur
to
argue
that women
"occupy public positions
in
the
city
. . .
that locate them as observers"
(p. 5).
See also
my
"A Sense of Place:
London in
Contemporary
Women's
Writing," Changing English:
Studies in
Reading
and
Culture, 9,
No. 1
(2002), 59-65;
Christine Wick
Sizemore,
A Female Vision
of
the
City:
London in the Novels
of
Five British Women
(Knoxville:
The
University
of
Tennessee
Press, 1989)
and "The London Novels of Buchi
Emecheta,"
in
Emerging
Perspectives
on Buchi
Emecheta,
ed. Marie Umeh
(Trenton, NJ:
Africa World
Press,
1996), pp. 367-85;
Elizabeth
Wilson,
The Contradictions
of
Culture:
Cities, Culture,
Women
(London: SAGE, 2001)
and The
Sphinx
in the
City:
Urban
Life,
the Control
of
Disorder,
and Women
(Berkeley: University
of California
Press, 1993).
2
See Nalini
Persram,
"In
My
Father's House Are
Many
Mansions: The Nation
and Postcolonial
Desire,"
in Black British Feminism: A
Reader,
ed. Heidi Safia Mirza
(London
and New York:
Routledge, 1997), pp.
205-215. Persram
questions
a sense
of "home" as well as "a definitive
nationality" (p. 212).
Her
analysis
calls for an
examination of how "the hierarchies of
power
established
by patriarchal Europe
during
the colonial era ensure their
reproduction
in a
postcolonial space" (pp.
212
13).
In
"Homeplace (a
site of
resistance),"
in The Woman That 1 Am: The Literature
and Culture
of Contemporary
Women
of Color,
ed. D.
Soyini
Madison
(New
York: St.
Martin's, 1994), pp. 448-54,
bell hooks focuses on the
ways
that black
people
have
developed
what she calls
"homeplace"
as "a site of resistance" in a
hostile white
world. See also Carole
Boyce Davies,
Black
Women, Writing
and
Identity: Migrations
of
the
Subject (London
and New York:
Routledge, 1994), subsequent
references to
which will be cited
parenthetically
in the
text; and Susheila
Nasta, ed.,
Motherlands: Black Women's
Writing from Africa,
the
Caribbean,
and South Asia
(New
Brunswick:
Rutgers University
Press, 1992).
3
On
"borderlands,"
see
Gloria
Anzaldua, Borderlands/La
Frontera: The New
Mestiza (San
Francisco: Aunt
Lute, 1987);
on "interstitial
space,"
see Homi K.
Bhabha,
The Location
of
Culture
(London
and New York:
Routledge, 1994).
4
Jane
M.
Jacobs, Edge of Empire:
Postcolonialism and the
City (London
and New
York:
Routledge, 1996), p.
4.
Subsequent
references will be cited
parenthetically
in
the text.
5
John Eade, Placing
London: From
Imperial Capital
to Global
City (New
York and
Oxford:
Berghahn Books, 2000), p.
6.
Subsequent
references will be cited
paren
thetically
in the text.
6
Peter Marcuse and Ronald
van
Kempen,
eds.,
Globalizing
Cities: A New
Spatial
118
Order?
(Oxford
and
Maiden,
MA:
Blackwell, 2000), p.
5.
7
Arlie Russell
Hochschild,
"Love and
Gold,"
in Global Woman:
Nannies, Maids,
and Sex Workers in the New
Economy,
ed. Barbara Ehrenreich and Hochschild
(New
York:
Metropolitan
Books, 2003), p.
19.
8
Avtar
Brah,
Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting
Identities
(London:
Routledge,
1996), pp. 192-93; emphasis
omitted.
9
See also Naz
Rassool,
"Fractured or Flexible Identities? Life Histories of'Black'
Diasporic
Women in
Britain,"
in Black British
Feminisms, pp.
187-204.
10
Joan Riley, Waiting
in the
Twilight (London:
The Women's
Press, 1987);
Hanan
Al-Shaykh, Only
in
London,
trans. Catherine Cobham
(London: Bloomsbury,
2002). Subsequent
references will be cited
parenthetically
in the text.
11
Isabel Carrera
Su?rez,
"Absent
Mother(Land)s: Joan Riley's
Fiction,"
in
Motherlands, p.
291.
Subsequent
references will be cited
parenthetically
in the text.
12
See Ato
Quayson, "Looking Awry: Tropes
of
Disability
in Postcolonial
Writing,"
in
Relocating Postcolonialism,
ed.
Quayson
and David Theo
Goldberg
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), pp. 217-30,
on the characterization of disabled
people
in
postcolonial writing.
13
See Saskia Sassen's "Global Cities and Survival
Circuits,"
in Global
Woman,
in which she examines the
"explosion
of wealth and
power,
as
high-income jobs
and
high-priced
urban
space
have
notably expanded" (p.
258).
This means
"tap
ping
into a
growing
new labor
supply?women
and
immigrants?and
in so
doing,
breaking
the historical nexus that would have
empowered
workers under these
conditions. The fact that these workers tend to be women and
immigrants
also
lends cultural
legitimacy
to their
non-empowerment.
In
global
cities, then,
a
majority
of
today's
resident workers
are
women,
and
many
of these
are women of
color,
both native and
immigrant" (p. 258).
14
Gail
Lewis,
"Black Women's
Employment
and the British
Economy,"
in Inside
Babylon:
The Caribbean
Diaspora
in
Britain,
ed. Winston
James
and Clive Harris
(London
and New York:
Verso, 1993), pp. 73-96,
details the
employment
of black
women in Britain.
15
Isabel
Hoving,
In Praise
of
New Travelers:
Reading
Caribbean
Migrant
Women
Writers
(Stanford:
Stanford
University
Press, 2001),
finds what she calls
"migratory
subjectivity"
to be "a Black and Caribbean feminist
concept" (p. 83). Fluidity
of
time and
space represent
resistance to "localization" and
"temporalization":
the
first concerns the
ways
people
are
assigned
to
places
and seen uas
places" (p.
82),
while the second is "destructive
temporalizing
that cuts
people
off from other times
and histories"
(p.
86).
16
In addition to
Riley
and
Al-Shaykh,
numerous
contemporary
women
authors,
both
first-generation immigrants,
such as
Beryl Gilroy
from
Guyana
or Buchi
Emecheta from
Nigeria,
and
second-generation
writers,
such
as
the London-born
Andrea
Levy,
who is of
Jamaican parentage,
or
Zadie
Smith, explore experiences
of
postcolonialism
in London.
Emecheta,
in In the Ditch
(London:
Barrie and
Jenkins,
1972)
and Second-Class
Citizen (London:
Allison and
Busby, 1974),
writes of the
conditions that led to her decision to
migrate
and of her
experiences
of racism in
London. Emecheta focuses
on
the survival of
Adah,
the
protagonist
in both
nov
els, who,
far from
being
an unencumbered
fl?neur,
leaves an abusive husband and
negotiates
the
system
to
gain
access to
public housing
and assistance for herself and
119
her
children,
as
well as to education and
employment. Despite
the racism she
encounters,
she is able to
navigate
the
city
in
ways
that allow her to resist
exploita
tion. Both
Levy's
and
Gilroy's
second- and
third-generation protagonists,
in Fruit
of
the Lemon
(London: Review-Headline, 1999)
and
Boy-Sandwich (Oxford:
Heinemann, 1989)
respectively,
need to
journey
back "home" to the Caribbean in
order to return to London with a clearer sense of their
identity.
Smith's White Teeth
(London:
Hamish
Hamilton, 2000)
examines the
multilayered
foundations of con
temporary
London
by tracing
the intertwined economic and
political
histories of
Jamaican, Bangladeshi, Jewish,
and Welsh characters and their families. Smith's
London is a
hybrid place,
where one must unearth the
layers
of
history
of
many
continents and
diasporas
to understand the
contemporary experience
of the
global
city.
While these authors write about the
many inequities
and
challenges
that their
characters
encounter,
they
also write about the often ambivalent sense of freedom
and
possibility
their
protagonists
find in London
as
they
recreate their identities.
17
Virginia
Woolf,
To the
Lighthouse (New
York:
Harcourt,
Brace and
Co., 1927).
18
Joan Riley,
The
Unbelonging (London:
The Women's
Press, 1985); hooks,
see
note 2.
19
Amira uses
masquerade
not
only
to
pass
herself off as a
princess
but also in her
encounters with her clients. On
masquerade
in another
postcolonial
London con
text,
see Niti
Sampat-Patel,
Postcobnial
Masquerades:
Culture and Politics in
Literature, Film, Video,
and
Photography, Literary
Criticism and Cultural
Theory:
The Interaction of Text and
Society,
ed. William E. Cain
(New
York:
Garland,
2001).
120