The rise of fascism in Europe created a body of works by authors for whom the choice of exile became the defining event in their lives, autobiographers who recounted terrifying stories of incarceration, flight, survival, and integration into a new culture. In The Face of Exile, Judith Melton offers a powerful and empathetic analysis of the autobiographies written by these unwilling participants in the social upheaval created by Hitler's war on Europe.
In The Face of Exile, Judith Melton first focuses on the disrupted lives revealed in early memoirs by such self-defined witnesses of history as Lion Feuchtwanger, Georg Grosz, and Yehuda Nir, emphasizing that their personal stories provide the modern reader with insight into the subjective responses to the crisis of going into exile. Given the traumatic nature of the experiences involved, Melton preserves an admirable balance between critical objectivity and sympathy in analyzing the lives of these suffering writers.
In the second and longer part, Melton situates exile autobiography within the appropriate critical theories before concentrating on the consistent themes of exile autobiography: loss, disruption, and reintegration; she examines psychological expressions of exile—often written years later—that seek to reconstitute a self fractured by the psychic and physical shocks of exile. Drawing on an amazingly diverse body of works, she shows how nostalgia for childhood (Vladimir Nabokov and Eva Hoffman), intellectual responses (Czeslaw Milosz and Thomas Mann), and spiritual meditations (Mircea Eliade) become major influences on exile autobiography.
The Face of Exile is a significant and validating examination of the cultural, psychological, and historical dimensions of exile autobiography. Clearly and compellingly, Judith Melton reveals the voices and concepts behind this important twentieth-century literature that has become a metaphor for alienation in our time.