The Drift Latitudes calls for the inclusion of people in the margins of Europe

The fictions of the British/Sudanese/cosmopolitan European writer Jamal Mahjoub centre upon travel, migration, and transformation. While his early novels address such questions as dislocation and exile, his recent narratives have sought to construct a historical understanding of the hybrid roots and routes of modern European identity and its many-layered history. Mobility as a characteristic of postcolonial identity is also central to Mahjoub’s recent novel The Drift Latitudes published in 2006. Spanning various phases and places in the history of twentieth-century Europe, The Drift Latitudes focuses on the life, or lives, of the mysterious German refugee Ernst Frager and his two British families.

Published in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, an essay by Professor Jopi Nyman argues that Mahjoub’s novel utilizes the tropes of transnational travel and migration to present a critique of discourses of purity and nationalism. The Drift Latitudes hybridizes British and European identities and underlines the need to remember the stories of ordinary people omitted from official histories. The novel foregrounds the notion of memory and the related need to tell the stories of those whom conventional history forgets, including refugees and migrants. To counter views that confine refugees and other often undocumented people in the margins, The Drift Latitudes argues for the importance of memory and history.

Through its treatment of the various and largely forgotten pasts of migrants, it shows how European identities are in constant flux and how seemingly distant people and places, such as Liverpool and Sudan, are invisibly linked through silenced family connections, creating further imagined communities. In this way the novel uncovers alternative accounts of European pasts, transforming the cultural memory of the continent.

Professor Nyman’s reading of the novel also proposes that Mahjoub’s representations of European identities problematize simplified understandings of globalization and migrant hybridity by showing that travel and migration are not merely features of globalized late modernity but historically characterize European identities. As the novel’s supposedly British families appear to possess transnational links with Sudan, Germany, and the Caribbean, the novel reconstructs European identity as transnational and in need of historical reassessment. As a further contribution to the importance of hybrid identity, The Drift Latitudes tells the story of black cultural identity and its construction in post-Second World War Liverpool in tandem with the importance of black music as a means of constructing black diasporic identity. As such, black music comes to function as a counter-narrative of Western rationality and a semiotic and postcolonial critique of the symbolic and colonial order.Consequently music becomes a part of the hybridity that the dominant historical narratives seek to suppress. The realization of the multicultural character of (European) history and the need to voice alternative narratives of the past is a general characteristic of Mahjoub’s novels, as will be argued in Professor Nyman’s forthcoming essay.


For further information, please contact Professor Jopi Nyman at the School of Humanities, email:, tel.: +358 13 251 4331

Original article:

Nyman, Jopi 2011. Beyond Liverpool, 1957: Travel, diaspora, and migration in Jamal Mahjoub's The Drift Latitudes. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, September 2011 vol. 46 no. 3, 493-511.

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Artikkelin kirjoitusvuosi: 2011

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