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The Purloined Islands

Caribbean-U.S. Crosscurrents in Literature and Culture, 1880–1959
Jeff Karem
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BUY Cloth · 320 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813930862 · $75.00 · Feb 2011
BUY Paper · 320 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813930879 · $39.50 · Feb 2011

The Purloined Islands offers the first book-length exploration of literary and cultural exchanges between the United States and the Caribbean during the roughly eighty-year period of their greatest interaction, from the close of the Spanish-American War to the Cuban Revolution. The interconnected histories of colonization, migration, slavery, and political struggle thrust writers from both regions into a vibrant literary conversation across national borders. Jeff Karem charts this dialogue and its patterns of influence through an analysis of key literary and cultural sources in English, French, and Spanish, including a large body of rare archival evidence.

What the author identifies in this wide-ranging exchange is the Caribbean’s vital contribution not only to the literatures of the American hemisphere but also to the literary and intellectual culture of the United States itself. Specifically, he shows how such movements as pan-Africanism, the New Negro Renaissance, and pan-American modernism have significant Caribbean roots, although the United States has often failed to recognize them, effectively "purloining" those resources without acknowledgment. As his title’s allusion to Poe’s "The Purloined Letter" suggests, Karem argues that the contributions of the Caribbean have been borrowed, appropriated, and nationalized by U.S. culture but are hidden in plain sight.

Both its multilingual character and its emphasis on the reciprocity in cultural cross-currents will make the book of interest to readers not only in Caribbean and American cultural and literary studies but also in pan-American or border studies, Black Atlantic studies, and African American studies.

Reviews:


The Purloined Islands seeks to reverse the ‘U.S.-centric’ tendency in recent ‘global’ American studies scholarship, which typically situates U.S. authors and culture as the engine of influence and power in the hemisphere without considering how neighboring cultures and authors not only have been in dialogue with but also have shaped U.S. literary and cultural traditions. Karem is challenging the amnesia that allowed the United States to become the bearer of the West’s burden and to relegate the Other America to the margins. In its breadth, diversity, and originality, The Purloined Islands is a strong and innovative contribution to the field.

J. Michael Dash, New York University, author of The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context

About the Author(s): 

Jeff Karem is Associate Professor in the Department of English at Cleveland State University and the author of The Romance of Authenticity: The Cultural Politics of Regional and Ethnic Literatures (Virginia).

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