Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Immigration lesson

Zinovy Zinik in the Times Literary Supplement:

"Would you describe yourself as a Russian or a British author?" I've been asked this question on many occasions. The answer depends, of course, on who is asking. For the officer at border control in the United Kingdom, I'm that hybrid creature, a British citizen. I don't mind when people ask me where I'm from, unless they are implying, "When are you going home?"

In nightmares I used to find myself stuck again behind the Iron Curtain, unable to return to England. I'm rather fond of the plea made by Kipling's Roman centurion: "Legate, I come to you in tears---my cohort ordered home/I've served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?"

I have often been told that Britain is a nation of shopkeepers---but shopkeepers are a welcoming lot; they like newcomers as potential customers. England has cured me of a fear of encounters with the alien aspects of life, a Soviet fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. I'm a British citizen with an exotic past.

We are all composite characters. Kipling was born and grew up in India. Should we call him an Indian writer? Pushkin had black African ancestors. He never traveled abroad but wrote first drafts in French. We don't call him a French poet of African origin born in Russian exile. Conrad's second language was French---he had learnt his English while serving in the British merchant navy, but he is a British writer...(What should I do in Rome?)

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