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'Confluence Narratives' define national identity via encounters between ethnic groups

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor says that in his new book he has identified nothing less than “a new literary genre” that defines a hemispheric American national identity via cultural encounters generated by colonization, slavery and immigration.

“Confluence Narratives: Ethnicity, History and Nation-Making in the Americas” (2016, Bucknell University Press), by Antonio Luciano de Andrade Tosta, lays out its case by comparing a novel from Tosta’s native Brazil with a novel from another North or South American nation in each of four ethnic categories: Native American, African-American, Jewish-American and Japanese-American.

Tosta is associate professor of Spanish & Portuguese in KU’s School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

“It’s a study of a new literary genre, which is a subset of the historical novel that I am calling confluence narrative,” Tosta said. “Since the 1970s, stories about colonization, slavery and immigration appear throughout the Americas. I call attention to the importance of ethnicity and race for the definition of national identity in these novels and in the hemisphere. How do we define what it is to be Brazilian or American? Paradoxically, perhaps, those nations can be best understood by looking at a series of cultural encounters they all have experienced.”

Tosta said that his book takes a critical look at these representations, as compared to the way in which historical novels of the 19th century portrayed cultural encounters.

“This type of literature writes about the past to question history as an authority,” Tosta said. “History poses itself as the truth: This is what happened. These narratives propose an alternate history; they question the authority of historical discourse. These are postcolonial novels. They are critical of colonization and its effects.”

Tosta said he chose those four ethnic groups because “they are predominant in the history of the American hemisphere.” Each chapter offers a brief history of that group in the Western Hemisphere before examining the novels themselves.

Tosta said he hopes the book “will contribute to a study of historical novels in the Americas and that it will be of interest to scholars, to graduate students of comparative literature, foreign languages and English, both here and abroad.” He added, “I hope it will encourage other scholars to write about other novels representative of this genre. … I’m introducing it. Let’s see what happens.”