Rana's essay reads two pioneering works by Syrian immigrant writers, Ameen Rihani's The Book of Khalid (1911) and Abraham Rihbany's A Far Journey (1914), that inaugurate Arab American fiction and autobiography, respectively. She shows how both texts proliferate myths of origin, attributions of kinship, and figurations of birth and rebirth, constructing a literary discourse of immigrant nativity—what Rana understands as the production of belonging by immigrants. Although Rihani and Rihbany cannot claim to have been born in the United States, they nonetheless imagine ways of “going native,” conceiving an American nativity that is subject to the modifications of their immigrant status. She positions these marginalized texts in relation to the canonical mainstream of American literature, showing how they adapt American transcendentalism and Anglo-American Protestantism in the course of their production of nativity. In these works, a remarkable literary structure of Orientalism emerges, characterized not so much by the binary teleology of “East” and “West” as by the typological circularity of these constructs. Ultimately, this essay reveals how early Syrian immigrants have contributed to the vexed proximity of the Middle East and the United States, proposing that we explore the broader archive of immigrant Americanism that subtends, but also redefines, the terms of American hegemony.
Swati Rana; The Production of Nativity in Early Syrian Immigrant Literature. American Literature 1 September 2011; 83 (3): 547–570. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1339863
Download citation file: