cover image The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience

The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience

Meena Alexander. South End Press, $16 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-89608-545-9

Raised in Kerala and Khartoum, Alexander does not see herself as an American poet a la Robert Frost. Yet, as the 20th century draws to a close, what could be more American than these lines: ""I am here in Isamu's garden, by an old warehouse,/ by a children's park, by the East River-rusty gasoline tanks, the/ packed cars of new immigrants, the barbed wires/ of Meerut, Bensonhurst, Baghdad, strung in my brain"" Many of the poems and essays in this rich, provocative collection deal with classic immigrant themes of identity, language and dislocation. Alexander starts with intimate concerns-coming to grips with life in a female body, struggling to find an emotional home-but also speaks passionately on broader political themes. Her essay ""Well-Jumped Women,"" about a poetry reading she gave in England for female Indian refugees from Uganda, deserves to become a feminist classic; ""Translating Violence"" spotlights Hindu-Muslim conflict transplanted to New Jersey. Essays on 21 female writers and insightful reviews of Asian American art add to the heady mix. For a language that was imposed on her as a child and about which she still professes ambivalence, English has served Alexander well. Her memoir Fault Lines was one of PW's best books of 1993, and her novel Nampally Road was a 1991 VLS Editor's Choice. (Nov.)