Judith and Community

Ledent’s article provides a convincing interpretation of the way in which Mengestu’s novel problematizes the possibilities for community in diaspora. Ledent demonstrates the multiple (and conflicting) affiliations that Sepha must navigate, arguing that all of these affiliations–with the Ethiopian community, with his fellow Africans, with the African-American community, and with the white community–are fraught and fragile, ultimately failing to provide Sepha with a community in which he can live his “essential distinctiveness.” And yet, it isn’t just those characters in diaspora who fail to produce meaningful communal relationships. While I enjoyed Ledent’s reading, I feel like it oversimplified Judith’s role in the novel, making her at once an stand-in for the American dream and for America’s history of violence. He also insinuates that Judith was only attracted to Sepha for his “ethnic/ non-American otherness.” Each of these readings can be supported in the text, but I don’t think they do justice to a character that Mengestu is resisting turning into an allegorical representation of “the white community” or the American dream. In fact, it is Judith’s desire to belong to a truly American community that leads her to a desire to participate in the democracy of the community meeting, from which she is (understandably) excluded.

It may also be possible to see in the figure of Judith some sort of diasporic figure, if only a very metaphorical sense. She is, like Sepha, rootless and perpetually relocating, described as a “part fugitive, part adventurer.” This description seems to invoke both the act of running from and running to something, which mimics Sepha’s dual-vision, which at once looks back to Ethiopia and forward to the promise of America. It is, of course, important to note that Judith’s mobility is of a very different sort than the forced mobility of the diasporic subject. However, the fact that it is an act of spatial violence against her home which causes her to uproot her life and move on seems to be a conscious move on Mengestu’s part to mirror the violence which precipitates diaspora in Judith’s narrative. Finally, it’s worth noting that Judith, like Sepha, is unable to find community even in her own family, as evidenced by her failed marriage and troubled relationship with her daughter. This is all just to say that the novel’s complication of community is not limited simply to Sepha and his fellow diasporic subjects, and to reduce it to that, as Ledent has done, may not do total justice to the complexity of the novel.

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