In Ethnic American Literature: Comparing Chicano, Jewish, and African American Writing, Dean J. Franco offers a comparative approach to ethnic literature that begins by accounting for the intrinsic historical, geographical, and political contingencies of different American cultures. These contingencies, he argues, dictate critical perspectives that are ultimately ethical and that establish the terms for the study of ethnic literature in the first place. Franco looks at a range of writing, from novels by Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Toni Morrison, and Alejandro Morales, to literature and criticism by Tony Kushner, Cherrie Moraga, and José Limón, among others. While the early chapters focus specifically on what mourning means in these different cultural contexts in the representation of and response to trauma and loss, the later ones critically examine metaphors of the borderlands, diaspora, and nationalism. Proposing a method that both accounts for what is common in ethnic literary cultures and describes what is at stake in understanding their differences, the author extends current discussions of identity politics, race theory, trauma studies, and multiculturalism into a praxis of comparative ethnic literary criticism that is rooted in an ethics of respect.
Dean J. Franco is Assistant Professor of English at Wake Forest University.