Life Writing Trajectories in Post-1989 Eastern Europe

Return Visits: The European Background of Transcultural Life Writing


  • Alfred Hornung University of Mainz



Transcultural life writing, East European Immigrants in Canada


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.

Author Biography

Alfred Hornung, University of Mainz

Alfred Hornung is Professor and Chair of English and American Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. He held guest professorships at various European, American, Canadian, and Chinese universities. He was a fellow at Harvard, Yale, the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, and is a member of the Center for Cross-cultural studies at Peking University. His publications are in the field of modernism, postmodernism, life writing, intercultural, and transnational studies. From 1991 to 2002 he was the general editor of the journal Amerikastudien / American Studies. He is an editor of the American Studies Monograph Series, the American Studies Journal, the Journal of Transnational American Studies and on the editorial board of several journals, including Atlantic Studies and Contemporary Foreign Literature (Nanjing). He served as President of MESEA (the Society for Multi-Ethnic Studies: Europe and the Americas, 2000–04), as President of the German Association for American Studies (2002–2005), as a member of the International Committee of the ASA. Since 2008 he has been an elected member of the review board for European and North American literature of the German Research Foundation. He is a founding member of IABA and of IABA-Europe.





Life Writing Trajectories in Post-1989 Eastern Europe