Narrative Strategy in Crossbones

There is something frentic about the construction of the prose in Crossbones. Its cinematic focus can shift from sentence to sentence within a paragraph. I’m struck by the interchangeability of (though with complicating nuances) characters’ situations, and the break-neck speed with which Farrah switches from one narrative vantage point to the next and back. That style mimics the constantly shifting political balances that each character is engaged with when s/he navigates a group. The precariousness of trust–or even the irrelevance of trust is characterized in the interchange between Dajaal and Jeebleh: “How well can you know anyone these days,” Dajaal observes. “Would you trust him? That’s my question.” “I would string him from the rafters if he misbehaves toward you or Malik.” That precariousness is reinforced by the end of the novel when again Taxliil’s mutable identity shifts again. 

I think that constant shifting–the sort of game of telephone that Farrah uses to describe how the diaspora communicates, and simultaneously the erosion of connection between groups and cities in the same country–is mirrored by the narrative structure. This structural move calls into question, the notion of local and international connectivity in our age of digital communication and an international data glut–with so many speakers, no central governing force, and constantly shifting shells of identity (read: IP addresses, cellular phones, differing electronic networks in various nations, forged or re-written passports, name changes, etc.) what is a local identity, what is a national identity? How do these answers/questions inform the uses of polyglot code-switching strategies?


This is an interesting book in the chronology of the arc of the class, because it calls up the next set of significant, resounding, currently, relevant questions, in the age of post-colonialism/neo-colonialism, what is the relationship of the dispersed peoples to their land and to national heritage? In which ways are expatriates and naturalized citizens of countries that are ancestrally not countries of origin, building communities or being excluded from or instrumentalized by the national narrative of the new home country? How do those systems and processes present in places like Ireland, England, the US and Canada?

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