Return Visits: The European Background of Transcultural Life Writing

Alfred Hornung


In this article I read autobiographies by East Europeans who immigrated to Canada in connection with the Second World War as examples of transcultural life writing. My focus on the representation of return visits of these loyal Canadian citizens to their country of origin after 1989 reveals the underlying intention of relating the experience of life in a multicultural democratic society to the emergence of a new political consciousness in Eastern Europe. In my analysis I distinguish four types of concerns which try to bridge the past of their childhood experiences with the formation of a transcultural life in the 21st century: 1. Anna Porter’s return visit to Hungary for family reunion and an encounter with history in The Storyteller; 2. Modris Eksteins’s political motivation in Walking Since Daybreak as a historian who revisits his birthplace in Latvia as well as the stages of his displacement in German refugee camps for research on the history of the war years; 3. Janice Kulyk Keefer’s private driving tour of the Ukraine and Poland and the discovery of new political realities in Honey and Ashes; 4. Lisa Appignanesi’s search for the traces of the Holocaust in her native Poland in Losing the Dead. These reconnections with an earlier life from the Canadian perspective in transcultural life writings can be likened to the recent discussions of the constitution of transnational societies in a cosmopolitan world.


Transcultural life writing; East European Immigrants in Canada

Full Text:



Antin, Mary. The Promised Land: The Autobiography of a Russian Immigrant. 1912. Boston: Mifflin,

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W.

Norton, 2006.

Appignanesi, Lisa. Losing the Dead: A Family Memoir. 1999. London: Vintage, 2000.

Babiak, Peter Roman. “Toronto, Capital of Ukraine: The Ends of Desire and the Beginning

of History in Janice Kulyk Keefer’s The Green Library.” English Studies in Canada 29.1-2

(March/June 2003): 97–130.

Besemeres, Mary. “The Family in Exile, Between Languages: Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation,

Lisa Appignanesi’s Losing the Dead, Anca Vlasopolos’s No Return Address.” a/b: Auto /

Biography Studies 19.1/2 (Summer 2004): 239–48.

Boelhower, William. Immigrant Autobiography in the United States: Four Versions of the Italian

American Self. Verona: Essedue Edizioni, 1982.

Clayton, Cherry. “Janice Kulyk Keefer Interviewed by Cherry Clayton.” Commonwealth Literature

1 (1999): 183–97.

Eksteins, Modrick. Walking Since Daybreak: A Story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Heart

of Our Century. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Gilroy, Paul. Postcolonial Melancholia. New York: Columbia UP, 2005.

Haukanes, Haldis. “Telling Lives: Autobiography and History after Socialism.” Anthropology of

East Europe Review 23.1 (Spring 2005): 160–68.

Alfred Hornung

Hoffman, Eva. Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language. New York: Dutton, 1989.

Hoffman, Eva. Exit into History: A Journey Through the New Eastern Europe. 1993. London: Faber

& Faber, 2010.

Hornung, Alfred. “Transcultural Life Writing.” The Cambridge History of Canadian Literature.

Ed. Coral Ann Howells and Eva-Marie Kröller. Cambridge: Cambridge UP , 2009.


Hornung, Alfred, ed. Auto/Biography and Mediation. Heidelberg: Winter Verlag, 2010.

Kant, Immanuel. Zum ewigen Frieden: Ein philosophischer Entwurf. 1795. Ed. Rudolf Malter.

Stuttgart: Reclam, 2008.

Kaprans, Martins. “Constructing Generational Identity in Post-Communist Autobiographies:

The Case of Latvia.” Life Writing Matters in Europe. Ed. Marijke Huisman, Anneke Ribberink,

Monica Soeting and Alfred Hornung. Heidelberg: Winter, 2012. 259–77.

Karafilly, Irena F. The Stranger in the Plumed Hat: A Memoir. Toronto: Viking, 2000.

Keefer, Janice Kuylik. The Green Library. Toronto: HarperPerennial, 1997.

Keefer, Janice Kuylik. Honey and Ashes: A Story of Family. Toronto: HarperFlamingoCanada,

Keefer, Janice Kulyk. “Personal and Public Records: Story and History in the Narration of

Ethnicity.” Tricks with a Glass: Writing Ethnicity in Canada. Ed. Rocío G. Davis and Rosalía

Baena. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000. 1–18.

Keefer, Janice Kulyk. Dark Ghost in the Corner: Imagining Ukrainian-Canadian Identity. Saskatoon:

Heritage Press, 2005.

King, Nicola. “Structures of Autobiographical Narrative: Lisa Appignanesi, Dan Jacobson

and W. G. Sebald.” Comparative Critical Studies 1.3 (2004): 265–77.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. New York:

Knopf, 1976.

Kostash, Myrna. Bloodlines: A Journey into Eastern Europe. Vancouver: Douglas &

McIntyre, 1993.

Kurvet-Käosaar, Leena. “An Anthology of Lives: Jaan Kross’s Kallid Kaasteelised and Estonian

Memorial Culture.” Life Writing Matters in Europe. Ed. Marijke Huisman, Anneke Ribberink,

Monica Soeting and Alfred Hornung. Heidelberg: Winter, 2012. 279–93.

Lassner, Phyllis. Anglo-Jewish Women Writing the Holocaust: Displaced Witnesses. Basingstoke:

Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Luca, Ioana. “Post-Communist Life Writing and Memory Maps.” Life Writing Matters in

Europe. Ed. Marijke Huisman, Anneke Ribberink, Monica Soeting and Alfred Hornung.

Heidelberg: Winter, 2012. 295–312.

Mårald, Elisabeth. In Transit: Aspects of Transculturalism in Janice Kulyk Keefer’s Travels. Uppsala:

Umeå University Printing Office, 1996.

Porter, Anna. The Storyteller: Memory, Secrets, Magic and Lies. Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2000.

Saidero, Deborah. “Interview with Janice Kulyk Keefer.” Janice Kulyk Keefer: Essays on Her Work.

Ed. Deborah Saidero. Toronto: Guernica, 2010. 186 –206.

Skultans, Vieda. The Testimony of Lives: Narrative and Memory in Post-Soviet Latvia. London:

Routledge, 1998.

Spencer, Hanna. Hanna’s Diary, 1938 –1941: Czechoslovakia to Canada. Montreal: McGill-

Queen’s UP, 2001.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia UP, 2003.

Wong, Sau-ling Cynthia. “Immigrant Autobiography: Some Questions of Definition and

Approach.” American Autobiography: Retrospect and Prospect. Ed. Paul John Eakin. Madison:

U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 142–68.

Zižek, Slavoj. Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology. Durham: Duke

UP, 1993.


Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2015 Alfred Hornung

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.