Settler becoming is an exorcism: Kyung-sook Boo, ‘Becoming American by Exorcising “Indian” Ghosts in Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing’, American Fiction Studies, 23, 1, 2016


Abstract: Mira Jacob`s 2014 debut novel, The Sleepwalker`s Guide to Dancing, spans several decades piecing together the story of the Eapens` immigration from India to America as Syrian Christian Indians (St. Thomas Christians from India, also known as the Suriani). Throughout the novel, Thomas and Kamala Eapens use the word “American” in a vaguely racialized manner to indicate people other than Suriani “Indians,” usually white, yet the novel constantly uses “Indian” to refer to both Indian Americans and American Indians without distinction. The central locations of the novel, Albuquerque and Seattle, sites of historical dislocation of indigenous peoples and ongoing settler colonialism, renders this slippage as doubly problematic. The conflation of “Indian” is further complicated through Amina, the Eapens` daughter, who has to exorcise the ghosts of Bobby McCloud, a leader of the Puyallup tribe of Tacoma Indians whose suicide in a garish “Cherokee male” costume from Sally`s Party Supply she happened to capture on film, and of Akhil, her brother, “the Indian James Dean,” who committed suicide as a teenager and who once told Amina that “Indians don`t leave” because “they`re into the whole live forever-in-misery thing” before she can move on with her life and claim American belonging for herself. As Amina negotiates what it means to be American as a non-white immigrant dislocated herself by the legacy of colonialism participating in the settler colonialism that dislocated the indigenous population, she realizes that she has to exorcise the ghosts of both Indians, Bobby and Akhil, in order to become American. Thus, Amina`s narrative, as an extension and continuation of her parents, the Eapens`, demonstrates how non-white and non-Western European immigrants can also choose active participation in settler colonialism and its logic of elimination as an expedited path to belonging in America.

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