Reading and representing African refugees in New York
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Tracy Kidder and Jonny Steinberg have constructed evocative biographies of African refugees’ dislocation, journeys and struggles to settle in the USA. These books are reviewed through the lens of how South African readers might read these books given local imaginings of African refugees. The article describes how African refugee experiences are portrayed in both books and it critiques their representation of trauma and memory; and how each ‘author’ approached their relationships with the ‘authored’. Kidder tended to be the ventriloquist for the Burundian refugee’s life story and while offering useful narrative analysis, his conclusions have a redemptive tone. In contrast, Steinberg shares his draft manuscript with two Liberian protagonists, which produces complex encounters between author and authored. Steinberg’s analysis of how the past Liberian civil war is mirrored in present conflicts within and amongst refugees in Little Liberia leads to a more complex account of refugee lives and of how memory and history intertwine.