Thursday, July 2, 2015

Napkins for Martel

I found my letter-on-a-napkin today, the one addressed to Yann Martel.  It was folded inside the pages of his book Self which I am thinking of re-reading as perhaps relevant in addressing TCL questions of self (that and Liliana Meneses PhD thesis "Homesick for Abroad: A Phenomenological Study of Third Culture Identity, Language and Memory", which looks like it will rock my world).  Anyway, this is what I say about Martel and the note in the introduction to my 2014 The Writer and the Overseas Childhood:

In 2003, I sat in a café in Halifax, Canada and scribbled a fervent letter, a love-letter of sorts, on a napkin.  It was addressed to Yann Martel, whose novel Life of Pi I had just read, but it responded especially to my discovery that Martel was a diplomat’s son, and, though Canadian by passport, had been raised all over the world.  Essentially my absorbent little billet doux argued that because we had such similar backgrounds (myself also Canadian and raised around the world) we should know each other—in fact we kind of  already did (that convinced was I that his internationalized experience and mine meant we would understand things about each other that no other Canadian possibly could).  Embarrassing, ardent, and I never sent it.  It was not until 2007 that I encountered Ruth Van Reken, author of Letters Never Sent (her title uncannily reiterating the heartfelt feeling of shared experience that catalyzed my own un-sent letter to Martel), and one of the key proponents of research into the lives of “third culture kids,” a term that was new to me at the time, and is still new to the field of English literary studies, but aptly describes Martel and authors like him: raised outside his passport nation (one culture), in a series of host countries (second cultures), as an expatriate (third culture).      

And here's the note, rediscovered today:

 I wonder if Cabin Coffee in Halifax still exists?  Ha!  A quick google suggests it does!   Fans, head on over for a pilgrimage.

The note says:

Dear Mr. Martel,

I had to travel all the way to Singapore to find a copy of Self--and I was consequently skeptical.  How good could a book be if it fell off the radar so fast?  Silly me.  Of course good books fall off the shelves and under beds or into dusty warehouses of obscurity or into expatriate exile.  I ought to have known that.  I do teach literature, after all.  Anyway, Self is terrific.  I love its pseudo-autobiographical sleights of hand.  If you are its pseudo-protagonist, I love you too (and I am no more crazy than the next person, I assure you).  I write this in a cafe in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada at the end of August 2003 (depressingly near my 33rd birthday, ah well).  Should you find yourself in this part of the world, I would be delighted to meet you .  (Perhaps my own peripatetic upbringing delights with recognition at your literary themes.)

Antje (Canadian via Germany, Holland, Singapore, Wales, Britain, Texas, Ghana and now, again, Canada)

(This might be an alarming note: it is an unprofessional one.  Treat it with some flippancy.)
 Going backwards in my progress forwards . . .

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