The epistolary genre suggests its own authenticity, asking the reader to suspend disbelief and to treat the letters that compose its pages as historical artifact. Similarly, ethnic literature is a field too often valued for its sociological truth, admired for the extent to which its narratives express authentic ethnic experiences. This article explores the crossroads of epistolary fiction and ethnic literature, charting the collapse of authenticity in Ana Castillo's 1986 Mixquiahuala Letters and Hauling Nieh's 1988 Mulberry and Peach: Two Women of China. It argues that, far from being a venue for a singular authenticity, ethnic epistolary fiction offers the possibility for multiple iterations of subjectivity. In addition, ethnic literature likewise reinscribes the epistolary as an inherently inauthentic genre. In these novels the reader's contact with the characters is always mediated through the self-consciously textual form of the letters that the characters write as the narrative moves forward. Rather than highlighting authentic understandings of the minority group at hand, the relative disembodiment and conspicuous textuality of the epistolary genre works against such impulses to authenticate and define. Insisting on contingent performance rather than authentic truth, these novels enable complex and fluid constructions of self and homeland.
Epistolary Women: Navigating Ethnicity and Authenticity in Ana Castillo's Mixquiahuala Letters and Hualing Nieh's Mulberry and Peach
Linda Margarita Greenberg; Epistolary Women: Navigating Ethnicity and Authenticity in Ana Castillo's Mixquiahuala Letters and Hualing Nieh's Mulberry and Peach. Genre 1 December 2016; 49 (3): 273–302. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-3659086
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