Ideas

“You ask me what exile is…”

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A bronze sculpture from the series “Les Voyageurs”, by French artist Bruno Catalano.

The words of exiled creators, spoken through our columns

“Exile is always a handicap. But distance allows you to look at your own country, its past, its history, from a slightly foreign viewpoint. When we talk about home, we tend to hesitate, to go by feel. It’s a delicate process that you can lose a grip on at any moment. Maybe we have more sensitivity. Sometimes you choose to be silent and allow people to interpret.”

Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritanian film director, The UNESCO Courier, 2000-10

 

“Exile becomes hard when loneliness sets in, a loneliness that has more to do with the memory of something essential rooted within oneself than with ordinary recollections. Otherwise I do not regard exile as painful, because it not only means leaving home to go somewhere else, it also means stepping forward towards yourself, deciding to get to know yourself and to live in and with yourself. After living through your own tribulations and moments of wonderment, you need to find out about others, but the first essential is self-knowledge. Exile then becomes a quest, an expedition into the inner space of others, in the course of which one must, above all, never give in to the temptation of wanting to portray others in one's own likeness, on the pretext of aligning certain details.”

Edouard J. Maunick, Mauritian poet, The UNESCO Courier, 1994-3

 

“For a long time, I traveled, my mind and heart at peace, telling myself that I could return home when I wanted to. Things changed with the Ivorian crisis. I had the impression the door suddenly closed and left me outside. I found it difficult to understand what was happening, how we got there. I felt alienated, as if everything had to be started all over again. Exile begins when you can no longer return to the country you left behind, when the way back becomes painful.’

Véronique Tadjo, Ivorian writer and painter , The UNESCO Courier, 2008-2

 

“You ask me what exile is… Years ago, in a quiet corner of Kabul, I read the Persian translation of The Man from Kabul, a short story by Rabindranath Tagore. With his magical words, this talented Indian writer made me discover the pain of exile (...) I, who was sheltered from misery and who had only known war in books, saw myself also sheltered from exile… until the end of my days. At the time, I ignored that one day, alas, history’s unfair hand would turn every Afghan into the Man from Kabul by Tagore. That history’s folly would divide an entire nation and disperse the Afghans to all four corners of the world, far from their fathers, mothers, children, sisters and brothers. Around me, I do not know of a single family that was spared the torment of exile, and that, although without having read Tagore, did not live the story of the Man from Kabul and did not feel his pain within.”

Spôjmaï Zariâb, Afghan writer, The UNESCO Courrier, 2008-2

 

“When you’re an exile, you don’t really have an identity any more. Whether in Cambodia or France, I’m kind of at home everywhere and now. Far and close from everything. I’m interested in this distance. It allows you to stand back and to see further, to grasp the shape of things. The lesser evil for an exile is managing to make use of this.”

Rithy Panh, Cambodian film director, The UNESCO Courier, 2000-10

 

“If exile is an initiation test, it is also a test of the truth. It entails shedding one's illusions and the world of wishful thinking and pretence, and arriving at a kind of lucidity. It means learning how to winnow out the wheat from the chaff by discarding bogus tolerance, which produces a semblance of inner peace, in favour of real tolerance, which requires one to immerse oneself in the universal (...) Involuntary exile has become, in my case, voluntary exile in search of things past and spiritual resurrection. To accept is already to effect a return, at least to oneself.”

Bujor Nedelcovici, Romanian novelist, essayist and scriptwriter, The UNESCO Courier, 1996-10

 

READ MORE:

Novelist in exile: Luis Sepúlveda, The UNESCO Courier 1998-6

Chinua Achebe: no longer at ease in exile, The UNESCO Courier 2001-6