Relocation Narratives 'Made in Italy': Self and Place in Late-Twentieth Century Travel Writing
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SubjectTravel writing; Autobiography/memoir; Lifestyle migration; Cosmopolitanism; Identity formation
At the intersection of life writing and travel writing, relocation narratives form a distinct subgenre of contemporary travel memoirs concerned with the inter-subjective and intra-subjective experiences of travellers who become settlers in foreign locales. Lured by the dream of the ‘good life’ abroad, transnational writers detail their post-relocation experiences in autobiographical accounts that seek to educate and entertain global readers about what it means to accommodate to a new life in a new land. This study examines the entwined processes of identity (re)formation and place attachment represented in recent relocation trilogies set in Italy, highlighting the tension between reality and illusion in the pursuit of la dolce vita in the adopted homeland. Focusing on Frances Mayes’s popular Tuscan texts, Annie Hawes’s Ligurian trilogy, and Tim Parks’s memoirs set in Verona, the study addresses how their accommodation over a period of long-term foreign residency is represented in multipart nonfiction accounts. Are their memoirs of ‘becoming Italian’ merely an exercise in social distinction that appropriates Italian ‘authenticity’ and packages it for global tastes? Or does dwelling in cultural difference over time lead to the development of an intercultural competence that is one aspect of an engaged form of cosmopolitanism? A close reading of the language, stylistics, and form of relocation narratives reveals a tension between colonial and cosmopolitan orientations as strategies for cultural representation. By re-positioning themselves across geographic, conceptual, and generic boundaries, relocation writers are mapping out new possibilities for identity-making through new patterns of home-making within contemporary transnational lifestyles. Their deep immersion in place enables the production of situated readings of Italy, Italians and Italianness that avoid essentialising otherness through the recognition of dialogical subjectivities.
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